The Washington Post reported late Friday night that the publisher of the National Enquirer is facing legal jeopardy since he appears to have violated a cooperation agreement with federal prosecutors by trying to blackmail Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
Federal prosecutors with the Southern District of New York (SDNY) are now investigating the conduct of American Media Inc.’s (AMI) and owner/CEO David Pecker, raising the prospect that Pecker and his company might be charged with criminal legal violations.
At issue is the agreement AMI entered into with federal prosecutors which gave it immunity in the probe into campaign finance violations in Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. As part of the agreement, AMI admitted to paying former Playboy model Karen McDougal $150,000 to suppress her claims of an affair with Trump.
The non-prosecution agreement is very broad, and it includes language which prohibits AMI from committing any crimes for three years. It now appears that prosecutors may be able to identify laws AMI broke in its attempts to blackmail and extort Bezos.
Jeff Tsai, a former federal prosecutor, said:
“The agreement to refrain from prosecuting AMI and the company’s CEO David Pecker was because the prosecutors saw some value that their investigation would receive based upon truthful information coming from AMI and Mr. Pecker.”
“However, the value of AMI and the value of Mr. Pecker becomes severely tarnished or diminished if they are themselves continuing to engage in criminal activity or saying incorrect or untruthful information.”
Bezos, the CEO of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post, dropped a bombshell on Thursday night, accusing the National Enquirer of “extortion and blackmail” in an online post. Bezos said the tabloid threatened to publish intimate photos of him unless he dropped a private investigation into the tabloid. Bezos also suggested the Post’s coverage of the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi had angered AMI CEO David Pecker.
“Rather than capitulate to extortion and blackmail, I’ve decided to publish exactly what they sent me, despite the personal cost and embarrassment they threaten,” Bezos wrote.
The fallout from Bezos’ charges threatens AMI with new legal problems because of its non-prosecution agreement.
Under the terms of the agreement, AMI shall “commit no crimes whatsoever” or else “be subject to prosecution for any federal criminal violation of which this Office has knowledge, including perjury and obstruction of justice.”
And the non-prosecution agreement gives prosecutors broad authority to investigate any potentially illegal behavior that may have violated the terms.
“AMI and Mr. Pecker … are prohibited by the terms of their own agreement to not commit any crimes, without qualification,” Tsai said, noting this could include federal crimes as well “a crime that is state law in nature, or even local or municipal in nature.”
If it is found that AMI violated the terms of its non-prosecution agreement, both the company and CEO Pecker could be facing new legal charges. And, in addition to that, the SDNY prosecutors will have more leverage as they attempt to obtain testimony and evidence from Pecker that could implicate Donald Trump in the commission of more crimes.