So it turns out that Jeff Bezos's affair wasn't just blabbed by his mistress's brother to the National Enquirer after all, but instead it was all part of a Saudi operation to destroy Bezos for the Washington Post's coverage of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman's ordering of the murder of Post reporter and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi. This information comes directly from Bezos's lead investigator on the matter, Gavin de Becker, who took to The Daily Beast to spill the beans.
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.
We did not reach our conclusions lightly. The inquiry included a broad array of resources: investigative interviews with current and former AMI executives and sources, extensive discussions with top Middle East experts in the intelligence community, leading cyber security experts who have tracked Saudi spyware, discussions with current and former advisers to President Trump, Saudi whistleblowers, people who personally know the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (also known as MBS), people who work with his close associate Saud al-Qahtani, Saudi dissidents, and other targets of Saudi action, including writer/activist Iyad el-Baghdadi.
Experts with whom we consulted confirmed New York Times reports on the Saudi capability to “collect vast amounts of previously inaccessible data from smartphones in the air without leaving a trace—including phone calls, texts, emails”—and confirmed that hacking was a key part of the Saudi’s “extensive surveillance efforts that ultimately led to the killing of [Washington Post] journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”
Some Americans will be surprised to learn that the Saudi government has been very intent on harming Jeff Bezos since last October, when the Post began its relentless coverage of Khashoggi’s murder. The Saudi campaign against Bezos has already been reported by CNN International, Bloomberg, The Daily Beast, and others.
Saudi Arabia attacks people in many ways, obviously, including through their elaborate social media program that uses sophisticated technology and paid surrogates to create artificially trending hashtags. To give you an idea of how this program has infected the U.S., the New York Times reported that the Saudis even had an operative inside Twitter, which fired the suspect employee, and later advised select activists and others that “your Twitter account is one of a small group of accounts that may have been targeted by state-sponsored actors.”
In October, the Saudi government unleashed its cyber army on Bezos (and later me). Their multi-pronged campaign included public calls for boycotts against Amazon.com and its Saudi subsidiary, Souq.com. Just three examples among thousands:
“We as Saudis will never accept to be attacked by the Washington Post in the morning, only to buy products from Amazon and Souq.com by night! Strange that all three companies are owned by the same Jew who attacks us by day, and sells us products by night!”
“Our weapon is to boycott… because the owner of the newspaper is the same as their owner.”
“We're after you - the Jew, worshipper of money, will go bankrupt by the will of God at the hands of Saudi Arabia... the owner of Amazon and Souq is the owner of the Washington Post is the spiteful Jew who insults us every day.”
Bezos is not Jewish, but you get the point.
We studied the well-documented and close relationship between MBS and AMI chairman, David Pecker. That alliance includes David Pecker bringing MBS intermediary Kacy Grine to a private White House meeting with President Trump and Jared Kushner. Mr. Pecker has also traveled to Saudi Arabia to meet with the Crown Prince. Though we don’t know what was discussed in those private meetings, AMI’s actions afterwards are telling. To coincide with MBS’ March 2018 U.S. tour, AMI created a 100-page, ad-free, glossy magazine called The New Kingdom. Since MBS wasn’t yet a notorious figure in the West (this was before the murder of Jamal Khashoggi), AMI’s magazine introduced him to Americans as “the most influential Arab leader—transforming the world at 32,” and “improving lives of his people & hopes for peace.”
The Associated Press reported that AMI sent an advance digital copy of their laudatory magazine to the Saudi Embassy three weeks before printing and distributing 200,000 issues. (Despite AP’s substantial forensic evidence, the kingdom denied it received the magazine’s content in advance. While we’re on denials, the kingdom says Saudi Arabia had nothing to with the Bezos matter. The kingdom also says MBS had nothing whatsoever to do with the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.)
When AMI publicly insisted that nobody outside of their executives and editors “had any influence on this publication or its content,” I guess they meant other than Kacy Grine, the very same MBS-intermediary Pecker had brought to The White House. I say that because AMI soon had to disclose to the Department of Justice National Security Division that their mystery magazine included content written by Grine, and that they also gave him the whole working draft for advance review, and that he suggested changes, and that they implemented his changes, and that he provided better photographs of MBS. With friends like AMI, you don’t need… publicists.
My firm has done many investigations into Enquirer misconduct, including one that became the subject of a 60 Minutesinvestigative piece way back in 1990. Before then, tabloids had been seen as almost funny publications, mixing celebrity gossip with space aliens and Elvis sightings. But when the Enquirer’s on-again-off-again relationship with the truth percolated into politics, it wasn’t so funny anymore.
Though relatively benign at first (“Al Gore’s Diet Is Making Him Stupid”), the Trump/Pecker relationship has metastasized: In effect, the Enquirer became an enforcement arm of the Trump presidential campaign, and presidency, as the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York laid out in its case against Michael Cohen, who has pleaded guilty. The U.S. Attorney has done the country a service by levying extensive controls on AMI, David Pecker, and his deputy Dylan Howard, through a non-prosecution agreement that requires them to commit no other crimes for three years, and requires everyone at AMI to attend annual training on federal election laws. I’m guessing that’s not how they used to spend their time.
If de Becker's information is solid -- and there's every reason to believe it is -- then we have a foreign operation against a US citizen in order to wreck his life in revenge for his newspaper publishing the truth about the Saudi Crown Prince's murderous ways.
And if you think the Trump Justice Department is going to lift a finger to investigate this, I have my own newspaper to sell you. Hell, there's even odds that Trump knew about this beforehand and tacitly gave his permission. Trump despises Jeff Bezos for the same Washington Post that prints the truth about Trump.
Again, this is what autocrats do. I think there may have even been a quid pro quo here, Trump covers MBS on Khashoggi's murder (and you notice that months later our relationship with the Saudis hasn't changed one bit) and in return, MBS exposes Bezos's affair, which did destroy his marriage and his soon-to-be ex-wife Mackenzie is walking away with $70 billion of Bezos's fortune.
You tell me who won in this mess, because it sure looks like to me that MBS and Trump are getting away with this.