The escalating “dick pic” extortion scandal involving Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos and sleazy tabloid The National Enquirer has, perhaps inevitably, been linked back to President Donald Trump.
The Amazon CEO, in a highly personal blog post, accused the Enquirer of threatening to publish details of an extramarital affair and intimate photos of him, unless Mr Bezos stopped investigating the magazine.
Mr Bezos had hired a private investigator to figure out how private text messages between him and his lover, former Fox news anchor Lauren Sanchez, were leaked. He believes the texts were intercepted by a government agency.
Now a former senior editor of The National Enquirer has made explosive claims, speaking to respected news outlets CNBC and NPR, suggesting that the Bezos takedown is nothing more than an elaborate grovel by the Enquirer’s owner David Pecker in a bid to “kiss and make up” with Mr Trump.
Their friendship has been strained since Mr Pecker and his company, American Media Inc. (AMI), the parent company of National Enquirer, admitted that it helped facilitate hush payments to former Playboy model Karen McDougal. It also agreed to cooperate with the ongoing investigation into Mr Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign being run by US Justice Department prosecutors attached to the the Southern District of New York – all of which would put Mr Trump at risk.
Meanwhile, the President has made it plain through a Twitter jihad that he openly detests Mr Bezos, personally and professionally.
He has berated Amazon for paying little tax, for enjoying a low subsidised postal rate and for generally screwing over the American public. He frequently mocks and abuses the Washington Post, which Mr Bezos owns, and which flogs the Trump presidency, his personal integrity and business practices several times a day.
Former National Enquirer senior editor Jerry George believes Mr Trump approached Mr Pecker to put Mr Bezos under pressure – with the understanding that all or at least some would be forgiven.
As Mr George told NPR: “President Trump has had a hard-on for Bezos for many years stemming from, you know, professional rivalry and the ownership of the Post. He’s continually taking pot shots at him at every opportunity.
“So I think it’s only natural that, you know, as things intensified, he went to his pal David Pecker and said, ‘Listen, can you turn up the heat on this guy?’ And that’s how this thing developed.”
Mr George then told CNBC:“The Bezos divorce ordinarily wouldn’t have been registered on the Enquirer Richter scale, other than he is the arch enemy of President Trump.
“So after the Mueller investigation and after AMI became involved in the investigation, there was somewhat of a falling out.
“I think American Media and David Pecker tried to make amends and brought this divorce story to the President as a means of kissing and making up.”
Jerry George tells CNBC of Trump’s influence at National Inquirer
Bezos accuses Saudis in extortion bid
Mr Bezos has also hinted at a link between American Media and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Mr Bezos said his Washington Post had attracted the ire of the President because it had repeatedly examined possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and the potential financial conflicts of interest created by Mr Trump’s failure to fully divest from his businesses.
It has also been unrelenting in its coverage of Saudi Arabia’s premeditated murder of Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, reporting that the CIA believed the killing was ordered by Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Further, the paper had also detailed Mr Trump’s close ties with Saudi leaders and his repeated refusals to condemn Prince bin Salman or the kingdom.
“Several days ago, an AMI leader advised us that Mr Pecker is ‘apoplectic’ about our investigation,” Mr Bezos wrote.
“For reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve.”
CNN reported that Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir on Friday (local time) denied any connection between his country and AMI “and the alleged effort by American Media to embarrass Bezos”.