, 22 tweets, 4 min read Read on Twitter
THREAD: Did the National Enquirer and its parent company commit a crime or otherwise break the law in its recent actions towards Jeff Bezos?
1/ In the Medium post contained in the tweet above, Amazon founder (and Washington Post owner) Jeff Bezos explains how the parent company of the National Enquirer engaged in what Bezos characterizes as "extortion and blackmail" towards him. It is worth reading.
2/ As background, Bezos and his wife recently announced that they are getting divorced. This announcement appears to have something to do with the publication by the National Enquirer of texts and other evidence that Bezos had an affair with another woman.
3/ In the Medium post, Bezos explained that he hired someone to conduct an investigation of the National Enquirer and its parent company. He notes that there are "now several independent investigations looking into this matter," suggesting there are criminal investigations.
4/ To be clear, if the National Enquirer or its parent company caused someone to hack into Bezos' computer, server, or smart phone, that is a crime. (The National Enquirer's parent company claims it did not do so.)

The subject of Bezos's post is something that happened after.
5/ Specifically, the parent company of the National Enquirer told Bezos that it had many compromising photos and texts that it had not published but would publish if he did not agree to certain terms, which it sent to Bezos, who included them within the Medium post.
6/ The terms were written by a Deputy General Counsel for AMI (the parent company), and they were sent *after* a descriptive email from AMI's Chief Content Officer describing in graphic detail the private photos and messages that AMI had in its possession.
7/ In the proposed terms, among other things, both sides (Bezos and AMI) agreed to release each other of any legal claims, Bezos agreed to state that AMI's coverage of Bezos was not politically motivated, and AMI agreed not to publish any of the private material.
8/ The terms explicitly stated that if Bezos didn't abide by the deal, AMI could publish the material.

To be clear, when I say "terms," I'm using a legal word--this is drafted as if they are terms in a settlement agreement between AMI and Bezos. That is important.
9/ So is this extortion or blackmail, as Bezos claims?

Yes, given the ordinary meaning of those terms. But whether this is actually a *crime* is much more complicated than that.

Situations like this are common and I have represented clients in a situation similar to Bezos.
10/ What is extortion? Typically it's when someone demands money in exchange for keeping something embarrassing private. While we ordinarily have a First Amendment right to say whatever we please, it can be a crime to threaten to say something unless money is paid.
11/ This situation is more complex than that. Bezos has potential legal claims against AMI, if AMI engaged in wrongdoing against Bezos. Also, the AMI Chief Content Officer hinted that they believe the Washington Post will publish a false story about AMI.
12/ AMI would surely argue that this is a legitimate settlement of its dispute with Bezos. They realize that Bezos has claims against them, and perhaps they could make claims against Bezos or the Washington Post. The agreement would release those claims.
13/ AMI would also argue that the agreement calls for both sides not to publish damaging information about the other side, and that the descriptive email from the Chief Content Officer was merely part of its settlement negotiations, to show Bezos that their offer had value.
14/ Was AMI's action slimy? Yes.

Is it consistent with some of the questionable practices that AMI engaged in on behalf of Trump and others? Yes.

But is this the sort of case federal prosecutors would charge as extortion? No.
15/ To make this out as an extortion case, prosecutors would have to argue that the claims Bezos had against AMI constituted "money or property" of Bezos and that the whole settlement proposal was merely window dressing for the extortion of Bezos by AMI.
16/ You can make those arguments, but it would be a very hard trial to win. And that's without considering a potential First Amendment defense. AMI would also have an advice of counsel defense, because those terms appear to have been drafted by a lawyer.
17/ So what about the AMI Non Prosecution Agreement with the Southern District of New York federal prosecutors? (Link below.) The agreement would obligate AMI to fully cooperate with a SDNY investigation of this matter. documentcloud.org/documents/5540…
18/ But if this wasn't a crime, it doesn't violate the agreement. It does shift things to an extent because prosecutors could claim that this was a crime and use that to void the Non Prosecution Agreement.
19/ AMI would certainly challenge that in court, but the standard would not be the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard that they would be entitled to in a criminal trial. That said, for the reasons above, I don't think federal prosecutors will go down that road.
20/ (If they did, they would spend a lot of resources fighting with AMI just to have the right to bring criminal charges against individuals at AMI that they were willing to forego bringing in the first place. Not a good use of prosecutorial resources.)
21/ As I mentioned earlier, moves like this are fairly common when there are legal disputes between people or companies as a way for one side to gain leverage over the other. It is despicable but I have had no success convincing federal prosecutors to bring charges. /end
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