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Bezos flags 'Saudi angle' in alleged AMI extortion attempt

Updated 11:10 AM ET, Sat February 9, 2019

Washington (CNN) - Jeff Bezos' stunning accusation that the National Enquirer tried to blackmail him mentioned the close ties between the paper's publisher, David Pecker, and President Donald Trump -- and a second, less well-known connection.

Bezos flagged the link between the New York tabloid's parent company, American Media, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, returning to it several times.

While Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir denied any connection between his country and AMI to CNN, Bezos said in his Thursday statement that the link between the Kingdom and the media company is not yet fully understood. He carefully laid out a web of connections.

The trigger for Bezos' post was his decision to hire a respected investigator to find out how texts to his girlfriend were obtained and published by the National Enquirer -- and to determine why the paper and Pecker, the AMI chairman, had made him a target.

'A particularly sensitive nerve'

"Several days ago, an AMI leader advised us that Mr. Pecker is 'apoplectic' about our investigation," Bezos wrote. "For reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve," he continued.

On Friday, al-Jubeir denied any link between the Kingdom and the alleged effort by American Media to embarrass Bezos, dismissing the events by likening them to "a soap opera."

When asked by CNN's Kylie Atwood about any possible Saudi role in the matter, al-Juberi said, "I doubt it." When pressed he added, "as far as I know, flat no."

The foreign minister, in Washington to meet with administration officials, also said he has "no idea" of any relationship that AMI has with the Saudi kingdom

Yet Bezos noted that AMI has been investigated "for various actions they've taken on behalf of the Saudi Government."

And he provided a link to an Associated Press story about AMI's publication of a glossy magazine celebrating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's visit to the United States in April 2018.

AMI denied that Saudis had directed the magazine's production or paid for it, but the AP reported, citing sources familar, that three weeks before the prince's arrival, the media company sent a copy to the Saudi embassy, where it circulated among officials who then shared it with Washington foreign policy contacts.

Overlapping connections

On occasion, Bezos noted in his post, Pecker's connections with Trump and the Saudis overlapped.

"Sometimes Mr. Pecker mixes it all together," he wrote, describing a White House dinner "to which the media executive brought a guest with important ties to the royals in Saudi Arabia. At the time, Mr. Pecker was pursuing business there while also hunting for financing for acquisitions."

Bezos laid out reasons why both the Trump camp and the Saudis might want to target him.

The owner of the Washington Post admitted the paper has earned the President's enmity for its relentless coverage of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, and of the various financial conflicts of interest created by Trump's failure to fully divest from his businesses.

The Post has also doggedly covered Saudi Arabia's premeditated murder of its own columnist, Jamal Khashoggi, reporting that the CIA has concluded the killing was ordered by bin Salman, a charge the Kingdom denies. The Post has also chronicled Trump's close ties with Saudi leaders as well as the President's ongoing refusal to condemn the prince or significantly sanction Saudi Arabia.

The Post's coverage of Khashoggi's murder, Bezos wrote, "is undoubtedly unpopular in certain circles."

Principal Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley, speaking to reporters on the North Lawn Friday morning, said he "wasn't sure" whether Trump was aware of the situation and said the White House wouldn't be getting involved in something "between Jeff Bezos and a tabloid magazine."

Gidley added that he was "not aware" of the last time Trump spoke to Pecker.

In his post, Bezos outlined Pecker's immunity deal with the Department of Justice related to the Enquirer's "catch and kill" practice of buying exclusive stories that could have damaged Trump during the presidential campaign and then spiking them.

Bezos' noted that legitimate media outlets have speculated Pecker had used AMI and the Enquirer for political purposes.

The online sales mogul then detailed the reason for his Thursday post: AMI executives' threats to publish intimate photos unless Bezos publicly stated that he has "no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AMI's coverage was political motivated or influenced by political forces."

AMI said in a statement Friday that it "acted lawfully" in its reporting about Bezos' affair, but that it would "promptly and thoroughly investigate the claims" he made in his post.


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