Photo: Cliff Owen (AP)

The pro-Donald Trump National Enquirer obtained nude and other intimate photos of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and his girlfriend Lauren Sanchez—which Bezos says it used as leverage in a blackmail attempt—by paying $200,000 to Sanchez’s brother Michael Sanchez to hand over text messages between the two, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday.

Michael Sanchez has been reported to be the source since shortly after Bezos published a Medium post alleging the blackmail attempt in February 2019, including a Daily Beast article asserting he had blown up his sister’s spot at least partially to curry favor with Trump (who really, really hates Bezos). While the Enquirer had published multiple articles on the affair, which resulted in the end of Bezos’s marriage, Bezos claimed that the tabloid and its parent company American Media Inc. threatened to release intimate photos of him and Lauren Sanchez it had held in reserve unless he complied with a list of demands. Those included that Bezos stop an investigation into how the sexts were obtained, that he and AMI drop all claims against each other, and that Bezos release a statement saying that AMI’s coverage was not politically motivated.

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The Journal reported their sources said that Michael Sanchez, a Hollywood talent agent who had provided information (sometimes allegedly on his own clients) to the National Enquirer before, originally approached the tabloid with the offer to share the sexts after it had already begun investigating the affair. The Journal added that Michael Sanchez secured an unusually generous $200,000 upfront payment from AMI with a contract saying he was free to keep the money and take the photos to another publication if the tabloid failed to publish them—something spurred by staffers’ concerns that AMI CEO David Pecker would sit on it to protect a friend with family ties to Lauren Sanchez.

Pecker received immunity from federal prosecutors last year in exchange for providing information on Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s payments to women alleging affairs with Trump. Pecker had that information because he had long used his media empire to buy up and sit on embarrassing stories about Trump, a practice known as “catch and kill,” according to CNBC.

Later, Pecker became concerned that publishing the Bezos story could result in a lawsuit and jeopardize his attempts to refinance some $400 million dollars in AMI debt, which had already run into trouble because potential partners were wary of his prior run-ins with federal prosecutors. Per the Journal:

The pursuit of the Bezos story came in a period of financial strain for the company. Efforts to refinance over $400 million in debt in the early fall were jeopardized when an underwriter backed out in the wake of America Media’s legal entanglement in the hush-money case, said a person familiar with the company’s finances. The outcome of the crucial refinancing remained uncertain as Mr. Pecker weighed whether to proceed with the explosive story.

During past refinancings, Mr. Pecker had barred American Media publications from acquiring controversial content or stories that could have imperiled the reshuffling of American Media’s debt, said someone familiar with internal discussions at the publisher.

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Pecker ended up approving the deal with Michael Sanchez, the Journal wrote, but he later became furious over its terms, believing that the payments should not have been made up front and that readers would not care much for the story. Arguments over the matter led AMI general counsel for media Cameron Stracher to resign during a tense lunch at Cipriani Wall Street in November 2018. By the time the National Enquirer published their exposé few months later, Bezos had beaten them to the punch by announcing his divorce from his spouse, MacKenzie Bezos.

Bezos implied in his Medium post that Enquirer’s coverage was politically motivated (and could have involved subterfuge by anyone from Trump to the Saudi Arabian government). But in the Journal’s telling, the alleged blackmail attempt came after AMI’s financial backers demanded he find a way to make it clear the Bezos story was not a hit job on a Trump opponent:

Amid reports on alleged links between the Enquirer story and Mr. Pecker’s actions on behalf of Mr. Trump during the 2016 election, American Media’s financial backers at Chatham Asset Management—who had been unhappy about the Bezos coverage—conveyed their displeasure and pressured Mr. Pecker to resolve the matter, said people familiar with the communications. Mr. Pecker pressured his staff to do the same.

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In other words, the exposure of Bezos’s affair may not have been a grand political conspiracy so much as a Burn After Reading-esque parade of panicking and incompetence.

According to the Journal, Michael Sanchez responded to a request for comment by saying he did not want to “dignify” reporting that he sold his sister’s sexts for profit, characterizing them as “old rumors.” He added that he was not responsible for “the many penis selfies” in the Enquirer’s possession. Something tells us, though, that the next Sanchez family get-together is gonna be real awkward.

[Wall Street Journal]

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