In January, the National Enquirer published a special edition that revealed an intimate relationship Bezos was having. He asked me to learn who provided his private texts to the Enquirer, and why. My office quickly identified the person whom the Enquirer had paid as a source: a man named Michael Sanchez, the now-estranged brother of Lauren Sanchez, whom Bezos was dating. What was unusual, very unusual, was how hard AMI people worked to publicly reveal their source’s identity. First through strong hints they gave to me, and later through direct statements, AMI practically pinned a “kick me” sign on Michael Sanchez.
“It was not the White House, it was not Saudi Arabia,” a company lawyer said on national television, before telling us more: “It was a person that was known to both Bezos and Ms. Sanchez.” In case even more was needed, he added, “Any investigator that was going to investigate this knew who the source was,” a very helpful hint since the name of who was being investigated had been made public 10 days earlier in a Daily Beast report.
Much was made about a recent front-page story in the Wall Street Journal, fingering Michael Sanchez as the Enquirer’s source—but that information was first published almost seven weeks ago by The Daily Beast, after “multiple sources inside AMI” told The Daily Beast the exact same thing. The actual news in the Journal article was that its reporters were able to confirm a claim Michael Sanchez had been making: It was the Enquirer who first contacted Michael Sanchez about the affair, not the other way around.
AMI has repeatedly insisted they had only one source on their Bezos story, but the Journal reports that when the Enquirer began conversations with Michael Sanchez, they had “already been investigating whether Mr. Bezos and Ms. Sanchez were having an affair.” Michael Sanchez has since confirmed to Page Six that when the Enquirer contacted him back in July, they had already “seen text exchanges” between the couple. If accurate, the WSJ and Page Six stories would mean, clearly and obviously, that the initial information came from other channels—another source or method.
[On Sunday, AMI issued a statement insisting that “it was Michael Sanchez who tipped the National Enquirer off to the affair on Sept. 10, 2018, and over the course of four months provided all of the materials for our investigation.” Read the full statement here. — ed.]“Bezos directed me to ‘spend whatever is needed’ to learn who may have been complicit in the scheme, and why they did it. That investigation is now complete.”
Reality is complicated, and can’t always be boiled down to a simple narrative like “the brother did it,” even when that brother is a person who certainly supplied some information to a supermarket tabloid, and even when that brother is an associate of Roger Stone and Carter Page. Though interesting, it turns out those truths are also too simple.
Why did AMI’s people work so hard to identify a source, and insist to the New York Times and others that he was their sole source for everything?
My best answer is contained in what happened next: AMI threatened to publish embarrassing photos of Jeff Bezos unless certain conditions were met. (These were photos that, for some reason, they had held back and not published in their first story on the Bezos affair, or any subsequent story.) While a brief summary of those terms has been made public before, others that I’m sharing are new—and they reveal a great deal about what was motivating AMI.
An eight-page contract AMI sent for me and Bezos to sign would have required that I make a public statement, composed by them and then widely disseminated, saying that my investigation had concluded they hadn’t relied upon “any form of electronic eavesdropping or hacking in their news-gathering process.”
Note here that I’d never publicly said anything about electronic eavesdropping or hacking—and they wanted to be sure I couldn’t.
They also wanted me to say our investigation had concluded that their Bezos story was not “instigated, dictated or influenced in any manner by external forces, political or otherwise.” External forces? Such a strange phrase. AMI knew these statements did not reflect my conclusions, because I told AMI’s Chief Content Officer Dylan Howard (in a 90-minute recorded phone call) that what they were asking me to say about external forces and hacking “is not my truth,” and would be “just echoing what you are looking for.”
(Indeed, an earlier set of their proposed terms included AMI making a statement “affirming that it undertook no electronic eavesdropping in connection with its reporting and has no knowledge of such conduct”—but now they wanted me to say that for them.)
The contract further held that if Bezos or I were ever in our lives to “state, suggest or allude to” anything contrary to what AMI wanted said about electronic eavesdropping and hacking, then they could publish the embarrassing photos.
I’m writing this today because it’s exactly what the Enquirer scheme was intended to prevent me from doing. Their contract also contained terms that would have inhibited both me and Bezos from initiating a report to law enforcement.
Things didn’t work out as they hoped.
When the terms for avoiding publication of personal photos were presented to Jeff Bezos, he responded immediately: “No thank you.” Within hours, he wrote an essay describing his reasons for rejecting AMI’s threatening proposal. Then he posted it all on Medium, including AMI’s actual emails and their salacious descriptions of private photos. (After the Medium post, AMI put out a limp statement saying it “believed fervently that it acted lawfully in the reporting of the story of Mr. Bezos.”)
The issues Bezos raised in his Medium post have nothing whatsoever to do with Michael Sanchez, any more than revealing the name of a low-level Watergate burglar sheds light on the architects of the Watergate cover-up. Bezos was not expressing concerns about the Enquirer’s original story; he was focused on what he called “extortion and blackmail.”
Next, Bezos directed me to “spend whatever is needed” to learn who may have been complicit in the scheme, and why they did it.
That investigation is now complete. As has been reported elsewhere, my results have been turned over to federal officials. Since it is now out of my hands, I intend today’s writing to be my last public statement on the matter. Further, to respect officials pursuing this case, I won’t disclose details from our investigation. I am, however, comfortable confirming one key fact:
Our investigators and several experts concluded with high confidence that the Saudis had access to Bezos’ phone, and gained private information. As of today, it is unclear to what degree, if any, AMI was aware of the details.
Reuters is a bit shorter on the matter:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The security chief for Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos said on Saturday that the Saudi government had access to Bezos’ phone and gained private information from it.
Gavin De Becker, a longtime security consultant, said he had concluded his investigation into the publication in January of leaked text messages between Bezos and Lauren Sanchez, a former television anchor who the National Enquirer tabloid newspaper said Bezos was dating.
Last month, Bezos accused the newspaper’s owner of trying to blackmail him with the threat of publishing “intimate photos” he allegedly sent to Sanchez unless he said in public that the tabloid’s reporting on him was not politically motivated.
In an article for The Daily Beast website, De Becker said the parent company of the National Enquirer, American Media Inc., had privately demanded that De Becker deny finding any evidence of “electronic eavesdropping or hacking in their newsgathering process.”
“Our investigators and several experts concluded with high confidence that the Saudis had access to Bezos’ phone, and gained private information,” De Becker wrote. “As of today, it is unclear to what degree, if any, AMI was aware of the details.”