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McKenna: What Enquirer did to Bezos could count as blackmail

(AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)

Now that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has outed his own dirty laundry ahead of the National Enquirer, questions remain — like how the the tabloid get embarrassing photos and texts of the billionaire, with his girlfriend, in the first place?

It turns out, that the woman’s brother is the alleged culprit. Bezos previously launched an investigation to find out who the leaker was. American Media Inc. — the company that owns The Enquirer — had a lawyer email Bezos, notifying him that the media company had damning photos and text messages from him. The attorney said that Bezos should call off the investigation, or the Enquirer would publish them.

RELATED: How not to bully a billionaire like Bezos

Does that qualify as blackmail?

“I think he does,” said former Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna. “Extortion is sometimes treated as a synonym of blackmail. Blackmail is defined as gaining, or attempting to gain, anything of value, or compelling another person to act against such person’s will, by threatening to communicate accusations or statements about any person that would subject such person to public ridicule, contempt, or degradation.”

“That seems to fit here, really well,” he said.

McKenna says that it was a smart strategy for Bezos to break the news and publish the information first. It put AMI on the defense. The media company could face a civil case, or even a criminal charge for the blackmail attempt. McKenna isn’t sure a prosecutor would opt to take on the case, but a civil suit is likely.

“Clearly, they were trying to get something they wanted and they were threatening to go public with photos they possess if they didn’t get it,” McKenna said. “Now their lawyer, who I have seen on TV a number of times defending their position, has said, ‘Look, all we are trying to do is get Jeff Bezos to tell the truth. That’s not blackmail.’ Of course it is. They are saying ‘Agree to our version of events, or we are going to harm you.’ To me, that definitely looks like blackmail and extortion.”

Bezos, blackmail, and a Trump connection

Whether it’s speculation or has some validity, one narrative that has emerged is that Michael Sanchez — the brother of Lauren Sanchez, Bezos’ girlfriend — is a Trump supporter. He was also her manager — she is a former LA TV news anchor.

The story could now play into a larger narrative about President Trump.

“If Sanchez is reaching out to Trump allies to say, ’Hey, I got some dirt on Bezos,’ it does seem to underscore the role that Mr. (Roger) Stone plays, for example, to be the fixer, or hit man so to speak, for Mr. Trump. But it doesn’t seem to be connected to the Russia investigation in any meaningful way.”

That is, unless evidence emerges that indicates the blackmail attempt was really about the Washington Post’s ongoing coverage of the Russia investigation. Bezos owns the Washington Post and Trump has been critical of both the paper and its owner.

“But as often is the case, the simplest explanation is the one that turns out to be true,” McKenna said. “It turns out it’s her brother. We have motive, if it’s true that he is a Trump supporter and he contacted Stone. He had opportunity if he is her brother and had access to her phone. But what a terrible thing to do to your own family. It is puzzling that he would even take these steps, knowing who he was dealing with.”

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