Monday, February 11, 2019

(UPDATED) Will The Enquirer Dick Pic Uproar Be The Fatal Scandal For Trump?

Two things are certain about the National Enquirer-Jeff Bezos scandal.  It is sordid and it is complex.  To which a third thing can be added: If it turns out that the Bezos dick pic text messages were stolen with the approval -- tacit or otherwise -- of Donald Trump, then this finally may be the scandal that takes him down. 
There is a great deal of wishful thinking wrapped up in that statement since Trump has survived scandals that would have felled mere mortals.  But those scandals were then and the Enquirer scandal is now, and now is a time in the president's odious odyssey when he is on such thin ice between the Russia scandal, myriad House Democratic investigations and diminishing Republican congressional support that he could fall through at any moment. 
And as Gail Collins notes in The New York Times, "Everything sleazy always seems to wind up with a Trump connection."  
Speculation, claims and denials aside, we don't know how the pics with which the Enquirer tried to extort and blackmail the world's richest man were accessed in the first place.  In fact, we're still far from knowing that.  But anyone like your Faithful Correspondent who wants, hopes for, craves and obsesses over closure -- as in getting Trump the hell out of Washington -- is drawn to the speculation of Washington Post reporter Manuel Roig-Franzia that "a government entity" may have accessed the Bezos texts. 
"Gavin De Becker told us that he does not believe that Jeff Bezos' phone was hacked," Roig-Franzia said of Bezos's longtime security consultant.  "He thinks it's possible that a government entity might have gotten hold of his text messages." 
If that "government entity" was a U.S. law enforcement or intelligence agency, it would only be able to obtain the contents of the texts -- or sexts, as some are calling them -- with court approval.  While it's hard to imagine why a court would sign off on messages between Bezos and girlfriend Lauren Sánchez, it is easy to imagine a nefarious operator bypassing that constitutional nicety.  
"Government entity" also could refer to a foreign government, and here Saudi Arabia looms large.  Foreign governments aren't supposed to have access to Americans' private communications, but that notion has been smashed to smithereens with the vast Russian hacking of Democratic emails. 
Enquirer owner David Pecker has ties to Trump's buddies in Riyadh, including publishing a glossy 100-page magazine through Enquirer parent company American Media Inc. celebrating the desert kingdom and visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) to the U.S. in April 2018.    
AMI has denied that the Saudis directed the magazine's production or paid for it, but The Associated Press reported otherwise while noting that three weeks before the prince's stateside arrival and lavish White House reception, the media company sent a copy to the Saudi embassy, where it circulated among officials who then shared it with the Washington foreign policy establishment. 
Meanwhile, The New York Times has reported that Pecker traveled to Saudi Arabia after MBS's U.S. trip to meet with him and even believed that the Saudis would help fund his coveted acquisition of Time magazine. 
In December, former longtime Enquirer editor Jerry George linked Pecker, Trump and the Saudis in an MSNBC interview.  George said that Pecker was using his AMI's coverage to help the Trump campaign and the Saudis in order to get financing for acquisitions and was holding onto damaging information to use as bargaining chips. 
"David got close to the Trump pals, including you know, Saudi money and Jared Kushner's . . . banking friends," George told MSNBC host Ari Melber.  "So he ultimately gathered some bargaining chips that he planned to use in time to get something he needed."     
MBS, with Trump's willing acquiescence, has sought to cover up the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident, U.S. resident and columnist for the Bezos-owned Washington Post, and on Friday refused to provide Congress a report determining who killed the journalist, defying a demand by lawmakers intent on establishing whether MBS was behind the grisly assassination as is widely believed. 
As awkward as it is applauding a ruthless autocrat like Bezos (and yes, I'm an Amazon Prime member), he did America a huge favor in blowing the scandal wide open in the form of a remarkable online post titled "No Thank You, Mr. Pecker" in which he detailed the extortion and blackmail attempt by the Enquirer.  
"Sometimes Mr. Pecker mixes it all together," Bezos 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 several reasons why the Saudis might want to target him.      
The Washington Post owner acknowledged the paper has earned the president's enmity for its relentless coverage of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, the various financial conflicts of interest created by Trump's failure to fully divest from his businesses, its dogged coverage of the Khashoggi assassination and bromance with MBS.   
Trump, who is incapable of keeping his pie hole shut, tweeted shortly after the Enquirer broke the story of Bezos's impending divorce from his wife of 25 years, that Bezos (whom he called "Bozo") was "being taken down by a competitor whose reporting, I understand, is far more accurate than the reporting in his lobbyist newspaper, the Amazon Washington Post." 
During the 2016 presidential campaign, the Enquirer published many favorable stories about Trump and hit jobs on Hillary Clinton while paying $150,000 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal with Trump's apparent knowledge to suppress her claim of a long-running affair with Trump, a practice known as "catch and kill." 
For the record, the Saudis deny having anything to do with the scandal while an AMI attorney on Sunday said that the Enquirer did not engage in extortion or blackmail.  The attorney said the source was a longtime tipster, while De Becker and some others see Lauren Sánchez's brother, Trump supporter Michael Sánchez, as the likely culprit.  Sánchez denies that despite "confirmations" by several news outlets, but even if he was involved, it begs credulity that he didn't have co-conspiritors. 
If the Saudis did gain access to the texts, it would likely be through some kind of hacking of a telecommunications provider rather than into the phones of Bezos or his girlfriend directly. 
No matter, because the truth may come out because of Pecker himself, who finds himself in the unaccustomed position of being on the defensive, but possibly in a shitload of trouble at a time when the Enquirer, a shadow of its former self back in the era of the O.J. Simpson and John Edwards scandals, is hemorrhaging money. 
In September, the publisher agreed to cooperate with federal investigators looking into AMI's involvement with the Trump campaign in making hush-money payments through then-Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen in return for a plea agreement brokered by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York under which he and AMI would be granted immunity.   
That agreement, which contained boilerplate saying that if the company committed "any crimes" in the future, "AMI shall thereafter be subject to prosecution," now appears to have been voided because of the Bezos scandal.  If Pecker knows who obtained the texts -- and he may not -- then he's not the only one in big trouble. 
Now, all of a sudden, maybe we're talking about an impeachable offense.       


Bscharlott said...

Prosecutors in the FBI's southern district of New York office now have two directions they can go. One is to void AMI's plea agreement and prosecute Pecker and company for both campaign-finance-related felonies and possibly blackmail. The more fruitful avenue, as you suggest, Shaun, is to use the new leverage to make Pecker tell all he knows about the theft of Bezos's emails.

I rather doubt that there will be evidence in writing that AMI went after Bezos at the behest of Trump or the Saudis; nor do I think Trump would have unambiguously directed Pecker orally to do a hit job on Bezos. So I don't see Trump getting impeached over this, even if he somehow induced Pecker. And given that Lauren Sanchez's brother is friends with dirty trickster Roger Stone, I lean toward the brother being the email thief, not a government agency. But who know? This story already feels like an implausible novel.

HCC said...

If her brother lifted the pics, that should make for an awkward Thanksgiving family reunion.

I rather doubt that a government entity heisted them because a) I don't believe in vast Deep State conspiracies, and b) I don't know that Trump has many friends still left in the natsec establishment.

Bscharlott said...

Now that it's basically confirmed that the brother delivered the Bezos texts/pics to the Enquirer, maybe some speculation about a conspiracy, if there was one, is in order. My best guess is that significant money for bribery of the brother (and maybe Bezos's girlfriend as well, explaining how the brother got messages off her phone) came from the Saudis, who wanted to teach Bezos a lesson about messing with them. Trump's role might simply have been that of cheerleader. The idea for the scheme could well have come from the dirty trickster himself, Roger Stone, who admits to being in contact with the brother.

The existence of such a conspiracy could explain why Pecker was "apoplectic" when he learned that Bezos was investigating AMI. Trump's uncharacteristic silence since Bezos flipped the script is likely a tell that his fingers were in this pie. The feds will surely drag Pecker in for questioning, and there will be a sword over his head -- get caught in a lie, then do serious time in prison. Maybe the Watergate mantra of "Follow the money" should apply here as well. And not only will the FBI be on the case, but Bezos's paid security folks as well. Can Pecker count on a pardon, if it comes to that? Can Stone?

Shaun Mullen said...

"The existence of such a conspiracy could explain why Pecker was 'apoplectic' when he learned that Bezos was investigating AMI.

Bingo, Brad.

Anyone who believes that Michael Sánchez was the sole agent is being suckered.