The richest man in fashionable historical past is caught in a weird sexual blackmail plot with geopolitical implications.

Yesterday, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos accused the Nationwide Enquirer of “extortion and blackmail” involving a narrative revealed final month. Bezos had introduced an investigation into how the Enquirer had obtained texts and images revealing he’d had an affair. Based on emails he posted, the tabloid then threatened to disclose compromising images if Bezos didn’t drop his criticism and state that the Nationwide Enquirer wasn’t engaged on behalf of President Donald Trump or some other political agent.

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It’s a wild and complicated story, enjoying off deep and long-standing rivalries between Trump and Bezos. And in the event you haven’t been following it from the beginning, it’s simple to get misplaced. So we’ve laid out the large questions — and a few solutions — under.

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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos Accuses National Enquirer Parent Company AMI Of Extortion

Picture by Stephanie Keith/Getty Pictures

The instant backstory begins on January ninth, when Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos introduced that after 25 years of marriage, they might be getting divorced. The announcement got here in an early morning tweet with an extended assertion hooked up. “After a protracted interval of loving exploration and trial separation, we’ve got determined to divorce and proceed our shared lives as buddies,” the assertion learn, printed within the Kindle-friendly Bookerly typeface.

It quickly grew to become clear why the couple had chosen to announce the break up publicly. The next day, a narrative within the Nationwide Enquirer detailed Bezos’ ongoing relationship with a girl named Lauren Sanchez. The exposé was well-sourced, quoting extensively from Bezos’ texts to Sanchez and making reference to “a cache of lewd selfies” that he despatched. The Enquirer claimed to have seen the selfies, however didn’t publish any of them or describe them intimately. Subsequent reporting by TMZ advised the affair occurred after Bezos and his spouse had separated.

In some ways, it was a typical tabloid exposé, however given the Enquirer’s shut ties to President Trump (extra on that later), some questioned if the story was politically motivated — probably a retaliation for varied Trump investigations by The Washington Put up, which is owned by Bezos. Trump gloated over the story on Twitter, which solely added gas to the hearth.

In January, The Each day Beast broke the information that Bezos had employed a group of investigators, who had been wanting into how the Enquirer had obtained the texts and whether or not Trump allies had been concerned within the story. There was nonetheless no agency hyperlink to Trump, however Bezos at the very least discovered the hyperlink believable sufficient to spend some huge cash attending to the underside of it.

Then, on Thursday, the dam broke. Based on Bezos’ Medium put up, the Enquirer responded to his investigation with an outright menace. Except Bezos known as off the investigators and declared there had been no political affect, the Enquirer would publish the images despatched to Sanchez, embarrassing the Amazon CEO even additional. Bezos refused the provide and revealed the correspondence, calling out the Enquirer for what he noticed as an extortion try. The consequence places extra strain than ever on the Enquirer to justify its story and dispel any attainable political motivations.

It’s arduous to say what occurs subsequent. To this point, no proof has turned up linking Trump to the Enquirer story, though Bezos’ investigation is ongoing, and the Enquirer’s actions definitely make it look like that they had one thing to cover. Enquirer guardian firm AMI has mentioned it’s investigating Bezos’ allegations, however it appears unlikely the tabloid will face any important blowback internally.

It’s additionally unclear whether or not the Enquirer broke the regulation in threatening Bezos. In its assertion, AMI introduced the hassle as a “negotiation” over alleged defamation by Bezos, mixed with a journalistic curiosity in publishing the images. The authorized precedents round this sort of extortion are ambiguous and it’s unclear whether or not AMI’s protection would maintain up in court docket. To this point, no prices have been introduced, though federal prosecutors are reportedly investigating the matter.

One of many largest lingering questions from the affair is how the Nationwide Enquirer ended up with Bezos’ personal texts and images. In principle, solely Bezos and Sanchez ought to have had these, and neither one would have leaked them to the Enquirer. As paranoia spreads over Trump’s attainable involvement, there’s been hypothesis that it might even have come from a complicated hacking marketing campaign by intelligence companies.

Essentially the most primary reply, nevertheless, is that we don’t know. The Enquirer has naturally protected its sources, and Bezos’ investigation hasn’t turned up any agency proof, except for casting doubt on typical hacking claims. Essentially the most convincing principle has come from The Each day Beast’s reporting, which confirmed investigators had questioned Lauren Sanchez’s brother Michael Sanchez as a part of the probe. A vocal Trump supporter, Michael Sanchez has ties to each Roger Stone and Carter Web page. If he had been in a position to get entry to his sister’s cellphone, it’s believable that he might have leaked the texts and images to the Enquirer for political causes, though there’s nonetheless no direct proof to that impact.

It’s additionally believable that the Nationwide Enquirer received the texts by much less savory means. If Bezos backed up the texts and images to the cloud, they might have been accessible by an account compromise, which might have been troublesome however totally attainable for a devoted attacker. That will be unlawful and wildly unethical within the context of journalism, however it’s not unprecedented for tabloids to resort to such means in pursuit of a narrative. Nonetheless, the information of that compromise would seemingly be accessible to investigators.

Essentially the most outlandish principle is that Bezos’ cellphone was hacked by a US intelligence company after which leaked immediately by Trump. That chance has been discussed prominently on cable news within the wake of the latest letter, seemingly promoted by the Bezos camp. The NSA definitely has the capabilities for such an operation, however it will be extremely uncommon and pressure an already tense relationship between Trump and US intelligence companies.

Others have advised the operation might have been carried out by Saudi or UAE intelligence, which have been documented to make use of phone-hacking instruments in latest months and have alleged ties to the Enquirer. However given how usually the Nationwide Enquirer reviews on high-profile infidelity, it appears unlikely such excessive ways can be obligatory.

The Nationwide Enquirer helped Trump cowl up extramarital affairs throughout his presidential marketing campaign. Journalist Ronan Farrow and others have reported on a quid professional quo deal between AMI CEO David Pecker and Donald Trump, whom Pecker has described as a detailed pal. AMI would “catch and kill” tales that may derail Trump’s marketing campaign, shopping for the rights from sources with no intention of operating a narrative. Trump allegedly returned the favor by introducing Pecker to potential buyers, together with a French businessman who linked Pecker with Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The tabloid allegedly paid off at the very least two sources for tales it by no means deliberate to publish — a former Trump Tower doorman who claimed Trump secretly fathered a toddler within the 1980s, and former Playboy mannequin Karen McDougal, who mentioned she’d had a nine-month affair with Trump in 2006. (There’s no substantial proof for the previous declare.) The Enquirer additionally allegedly tipped off Trump’s fixer Michael Cohen about grownup actor Stormy Daniels, who was planning to speak about her personal affair with Trump — leading to Cohen paying Daniels $130,000 for her silence.

The Enquirer initially claimed it merely couldn’t substantiate these tales. However after Cohen was charged with crimes referring to his hush cash funds, AMI escaped the specter of prosecution by admitting that it had been serving to Trump since 2015.

By the way, the Enquirer allegedly additionally tried to blackmail reporters investigating its hyperlinks with Trump. Farrow tweeted yesterday that AMI had despatched “related ‘cease digging or we’ll destroy you’ blackmail efforts” to him and one other distinguished journalist. Former Related Press editor Ted Bridis corroborated the declare, saying he’d been “warned explicitly by insiders” that AMI had employed personal investigators to search out filth on journalists protecting the story.

For plenty of causes — each private and political.

On the political facet, Trump has railed towards Amazon as a part of his bigger feud with Silicon Valley. Axios reported that he’s “obsessive about Amazon” much more than Fb, Twitter, or Google, apparently as a result of it’s undercutting his wealthy buddies’ companies, in addition to hurting the actual property market by making brick-and-mortar shops much less necessary.

Trump has publicly complained about Amazon being too highly effective, not paying taxes, and profiting from the US Postal Service to ship its packages — all complaints which might be at the very least partially official. He ordered a evaluation of USPS funds that was clearly directed at Amazon, and he’s raised the specter of antitrust motion towards it and different tech corporations.

Amazon isn’t the one downside, both. Bezos owns The Washington Put up, which has posted quite a few embarrassing tales about Trump. After the Enquirer’s story, Trump tweeted that the paper was “much more correct” than the “Amazon Washington Put up,” saying he hoped the Put up would “quickly be positioned in higher and extra accountable palms.” Vainness Truthful has reported that Trump assumes Bezos is immediately weaponizing The Washington Put up, as a result of Pecker did the identical factor with the Nationwide Enquirer.

However Trump supposedly loathes Jeff Bezos as an individual, too. The Vainness Truthful report calls him “obsessed” with Bezos in addition to Amazon, in search of methods to “fuck with him.” Political commentator Michael D’Antonio has described Bezos as “every little thing that Trump hates,” and comic Jimmy Kimmel joked that “Trump is jealous as a result of Jeff Bezos is definitely a billionaire,” referring to Trump’s notoriously sketchy claims about his personal web price. Additionally, Bezos as soon as tweeted about capturing Trump into area.

Would the Nationwide Enquirer publish filth about Bezos to make Amazon extra susceptible, or to provide Trump the private gratification of tweeting concerning the fall of “Jeff Bozo”? There’s not sufficient proof to say. However Bezos and the Enquirer are each deeply invested within the reply.

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