The attorney for the CEO of American Media Inc. denied Sunday that the company sought to blackmail Jeff Bezos after the Amazon founder accused it of "extortion" for threatening to publish intimate photos of him and his girlfriend.
"It absolutely is not extortion and not blackmail," said Elkan Abramowitz, attorney for AMI CEO David Pecker, on ABC’s "This Week" on Sunday.
On Thursday, Bezos accused AMI, the parent-company of the National Enquirer, of “extortion and blackmail” in a bombshell post on the blogging site Medium.
Bezos, the owner of The Washington Post, wrote that AMI demanded that he stop the newspaper from reporting on alleged political motivations behind the National Enquirer's initial stories about his relationship with his girlfriend, Lauren Sanchez. Bezos also wrote that AMI asked him to publish a "false public statement" saying he had no knowledge or basis to believe their coverage was politically motivated. In exchange, the company said it would refrain from publishing the intimate photos, according to Bezos.
Abramowitz said Sunday "the story was given to the National Enquirer by a reliable source" that had given information to the tabloid for seven years.
"It was a source that was well-known to both to Mr. Bezos and Ms. Sanchez," he said.
When asked if Michael Sanchez, the brother of Bezos’ girlfriend, was the source of the couple’s private messages, he said, “I can’t discuss who the source was.” The Daily Beast reported that Bezos' security team is looking into Michael Sanchez as a potential source of the couple’s messages to the tabloid.
Michael Sanchez denied to The Washington Post that he had any involvement in revealing his sister's relationship with Bezos. Sanchez told the newspaper he was told by multiple people at AMI that the tabloid had set out to do a "takedown to make Trump happy." Abramowitz denied that claim on Sunday.
According to the emails that Bezos published, which have not been independently reviewed by NBC News, AMI threatened to publish texts from Bezos and his girlfriend that included photos of a sexual nature.
"If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can?" Bezos wrote on Medium.
AMI previously said it would investigate Bezos' allegations, but that it believes the company "acted lawfully."
Pecker, AMI's CEO, is known to be friends with President Donald Trump and has been accused of buying controversial stories about Trump to keep them from being published. The president has also repeatedly lashed out at The Washington Post for its coverage about the ongoing investigations into his campaign and presidency.
In his post, Bezos cited that Pecker had been granted immunity by federal prosecutors in their investigation into former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen over hush-money payments made to women ahead of the 2016 presidential election. Bezos also wrote that AMI had been “investigated for various actions they’ve taken on behalf of the Saudi Government.”
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are looking into whether AMI violated its non-prosecution agreement as a result of conduct alleged by Bezos, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Abramowitz said Sunday that the email exchanges between AMI and Bezos did not amount to blackmail because "both Bezos and AMI had interests in resolving their differences."
"Bezos didn’t want another story written about him or those pictures published and AMI did not want to have the libel against them that this was inspired by the White House, inspired by Saudi Arabia, or inspired by the Washington Post," he said.
"All that AMI wanted was the truth," he said. "Bezos and Ms. Sanchez knew who the source was, any investigator that was going to investigate this knew who the source was."
Bezos has been at the center of a highly-publicized divorce from his wife, Mackenzie Bezos, since last month. The National Enquirer has since published articles alleging Bezos was in a relationship with Sanchez, a former TV anchor, including some with text message exchanges.
The Daily Beast reported that Bezos had launched an investigation into how the tabloid acquired those texts and last week, the Post reported that the investigation he launched had found reason to believe the leak to be politically motivated.
Abramowitz said it was "not a crime to ask somebody to simply tell the truth."
"Tell the truth that this was not politically motivated and we will print no more stories about it," he said.
The attorney added that while he could not reveal the source of the information about Bezos, the source was "not Saudi Arabia, it's not President Trump, it's not Roger Stone.”
Since Bezos accused AMI of blackmail, several prominent names in journalism and a Hollywood star also alleged the tabloid giant had tried to intimidate and threaten them.