One is the world’s most powerful man, the other its richest — and they don’t like each other one bit. Forget simmering tensions between America and China: nothing gets Donald Trump enraged like the Amazon boss Jeff Bezos.
The President often rails at the internet retail giant’s tax avoidance and hard-nosed business tactics, which he says threaten thousands of U.S. jobs. He compounded the outbursts by recently dubbing him Jeff Bozo.
The 55-year-old billionaire has responded by generously offering Trump a one-way ticket into space on his Blue Origin rocket.
It was inevitable, then, that Trump would gloat when excruciatingly embarrassing details emerged last month that Mr Bezos was having an affair with the wife of a business partner.
As Jeff Bezos faced a split from MacKenzie (both pictured), his wife of 25 years, and potentially losing half of his $137 billion fortune, Trump crowed that the divorce was ‘going to be a beauty’
As Mr Bezos faced a split from MacKenzie, his wife of 25 years, and potentially losing half of his $137 billion fortune, Trump crowed that the divorce was ‘going to be a beauty’.
Now, this battle of the giants, bellowing their contempt for each other like tigers in the jungle, has taken an extraordinary turn after Jeff Bezos publicly accused the magazine that exposed the affair of ‘extortion and blackmail’.
The National Enquirer allegedly threatened to publish highly compromising nude ‘selfie’ photos of Mr Bezos and his lover, Lauren Sanchez, 49, unless he stopped claiming its investigation into his private life was politically motivated.
The gossip magazine is owned by David Pecker, a publishing tycoon who is close to Trump and who has already admitted doing favours for the President in the Enquirer.
An investigation by Bezos’s security chief has suggested that Ms Sanchez’s brother, Michael, an ardent supporter of the President, may have exposed the affair in a conspiracy with two shady Trump associates.
So were the astonishing revelations about Bezos — which may yet rock the U.S. stock market if he’s forced to relinquish his hold over Amazon to pay for his divorce settlement — simply just another dark chapter in his battle with Trump?
Bezos certainly believes so, repeatedly saying in a post on the blogging website Medium published on Thursday night that he would be ‘lying’ if he said that the affair investigation had no political dimension.
The National Enquirer allegedly threatened to publish highly compromising nude ‘selfie’ photos of Mr Bezos and his lover, Lauren Sanchez (pictured), 49, unless he stopped claiming its investigation into his private life was politically motivated
The usually publicity-shy tech mogul said he was prepared for further personal embarrassment by publishing what he said was an email from Enquirer editor Dylan Howard outlining in detail the selfie pictures it has of him and Ms Sanchez. They included a ‘below-the-belt’ selfie of Bezos, and others depicting sexual arousal and simulated sex.
Bezos also published a purported letter from a lawyer for American Media, the National Enquirer’s parent company, outlining a deal in which it wouldn’t publish or even describe the photos — in return for Bezos and his team denying they have any evidence that the coverage of his affair was ‘politically motivated or influenced by political forces’.
American Media said yesterday it was investigating Bezos’s claims, and ‘believes fervently that it acted lawfully’ in reporting his affair. It added: ‘Further, at the time of the recent allegations made by Bezos, it was in good faith negotiations to resolve all matters with him.’
The company has already insisted its story wasn’t influenced in any way by ‘external forces, political or otherwise’.
It will stick in many people’s craw to see Bezos take the moral high ground. He is, after all, the ruthless online retail king who has laid waste to the global High Street, crippled the book industry and whose poorly paid staff toil under reportedly oppressive conditions in Amazon mega-warehouses.
Yet such is the polarising power of President Trump that many will instinctively sympathise with any target of his notoriously vindictive temperament. Some believe Trump cannot forgive Bezos (who has claimed to be politically non-partisan) for past attacks, such as accusing his election campaign of ‘eroding democracy’.
Others think the President just cannot forgive him for being so much richer than he is. Others still say the Washington Post news-paper is the real issue.
Bezos bought the Post in 2013. He insists he has no editorial say, although Trump clearly believes he does. The liberal media institution that exposed the Watergate Scandal and toppled President Nixon — another controversial Republican leader — has been hounding Mr Trump ever since he was elected.
In response, the President has called the Post a ‘scam’ and a ‘big tax shelter’. Bezos suggested on Thursday that the Post lay at the root of Trump’s beef with him.
It’s arguable whether the newspaper has caused any damage to the President that approaches the heartache the Enquirer has caused for Bezos.
The latter declared he was getting divorced last month just hours before the magazine announced he’d been having a months-long affair with Ms Sanchez, a helicopter pilot and former TV presenter.
Across 11 pages, the ‘supermarket tabloid’ revealed details and pictures of an affair in which it had followed them ‘across five states and 40,000 miles, tailed them on private jets, swanky limos, helicopter rides, romantic hikes, five-star hotel hideaways, intimate dinner dates and during ‘quality time’ in hidden love nests’.
Some believe Trump cannot forgive Bezos (who has claimed to be politically non-partisan) for past attacks, such as accusing his election campaign of ‘eroding democracy’
The Enquirer had even got hold of toe-curlingly embarrassing text messages between the couple. ‘I love you, alive girl,’ he wrote. ‘I will show you with my body, and my lips and my eyes, very soon.’
Compounding the humiliation, they are both married with children. The busty and pouty Ms Sanchez had met Bezos through her husband, Hollywood agent Patrick Whitesell, who worked with him on the Oscar-winning film Manchester By The Sea.
Bezos and Sanchez claimed both marriages ended recently, before they started an affair, although the Enquirer claimed their trysts had been going on for at least eight months.
The normally tightly controlled Bezos found not only his private life imploding but — given the fact that he had no pre-nuptial arrangement and so will have to share his vast fortune evenly with his wife — even his hold over Amazon under threat.
The damning email in full
This week, Jeff Bezos leaked an email sent from the National Enquirer to his lawyer, which seems to suggest that if the Amazon boss doesn’t quash a Washington Post story, then highly embarrassing, sexual pictures of Bezos could be published in the magazine.
In the interests of expediating [sic] this situation, and with The Washington Post poised to publish unsubstantiated rumours of The National Enquirer’s initial report, I wanted to describe to you the photos obtained during our newsgathering. In addition to the below the belt selfie, The Enquirer obtained a further nine images. These include:
- Mr. Bezos face selfie at what appears to be a business meeting.
- Ms. Sanchez response — a photograph of her smoking a cigar in what appears to be a simulated oral sex scene.
- A shirtless Mr. Bezos holding his phone in his left hand — while wearing his wedding ring. He’s wearing either tight black cargo pants or shorts — and his semi-erect manhood is penetrating the zipper of said garment.
- A full-length body selfie of Mr. Bezos wearing just a pair of tight black boxer-briefs or trunks, with his phone in his left hand — while wearing his wedding ring.
- A selfie of Mr. Bezos fully clothed.
- A full-length scantily-clad body shot.
- A naked selfie in a bathroom — while wearing his wedding ring. Mr. Bezos is wearing nothing but a white towel — and the top of his pubic region can be seen.
- Ms. Sanchez wearing a plunging red neckline dress revealing her cleavage and a glimpse of her nether region.
- Ms. Sanchez wearing a two-piece red bikini with gold detail dress revealing her cleavage.
It would give no editor pleasure to send this email. I hope common sense can prevail — and quickly.
The Enquirer was naturally protective of its sources, but insiders said that rather than hacking any phone, it had been passed the incriminating text messages by someone with whom Ms Sanchez had shared them.
Inevitably, the autocratic Bezos wasn’t happy with that brief explanation and he assigned his long-time security chief to investigate how his electronic communications ended up with the notorious scandal sheet.
That investigator, Gavin de Becker, has now concluded the lovers were not hacked. There was a mole, he says, and he identified Ms Sanchez’s brother, a Hollywood talent manager, who claims he represents his sister. Mr de Becker says Mr Sanchez is a fierce Trump supporter who hoped the affair would damage the President’s adversary.
As supporting evidence, Mr de Becker cited the fact that Mr Sanchez is friends with two murky Trump campaign insiders.
One of them is Roger Stone, a veteran Republican fixer last week charged with lying to Congress and witness tampering over the official inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The other chum is Carter Page, an ex-Trump campaign foreign policy adviser. His trips to Moscow prompted FBI suspicions the Kremlin was trying to recruit him.
The two men have denied any involvement in exposing Bezos’s affair. Mr Sanchez admits he spoke to both of them about it, but only after the National Enquirer ran its story, and only to pick their brains about his theory that his sister had been under surveillance.
Speaking to the Washington Post — naturally — Mr de Becker also cited another strong indicator of a Trump connection.
The Enquirer’s owner, David Pecker, is a close friend of the President, and the Enquirer has written a string of favourable stories about him.
Its parent company even admitted that in 2016 it paid $150,000 to a former Playboy model, Karen McDougal, to buy her story about having had an affair with Mr Trump. In what is known as a ‘catch-and-kill’ operation, it then declined to publish it, thus preventing it from harming his chances in the presidential race.
‘This inquiry [about the Bezos affair] has been about crime, not journalism. Again and again, political motives became evident,’ said Mr de Becker.
Distinctly shady or just all a little too convenient? American Media’s alleged blackmail attempt will certainly fuel suspicion that its exposé was indeed a political hit job.
Mr Sanchez vehemently denies he’s the mole. Compounding the confusion, he has pointed the finger instead at Mr de Becker himself.
He suggests the security consultant, a nationally acclaimed expert on violence prevention, leaked the story of the affair because he was determined to protect Bezos’s marriage — presumably by forcing him to return to his wife.
The Enquirer’s owner, David Pecker (pictured), is a close friend of the President, and the Enquirer has written a string of favourable stories about him
He has also argued that the security expert came up with the ‘political hit job’ theory to cover up for his failure to protect Bezos.
Mr de Becker denies all this and says that it’s no surprise when a suspect throws allegations back at his accuser.
There’s a third theory as to how the affair became public — the one offered by the Enquirer itself. Insiders at the magazine have insisted that the Bezos affair was a straightforward journalistic scoop with no Trump connection.
A source close to the story told the Mail that Enquirer editor Dylan Howard spotted a photo of Bezos travelling with Ms Sanchez on his private jet and became suspicious about their relationship.
The damning text messages surfaced later as they made inquiries during an investigation that lasted four months. According to the insider, its sources for the text messages included one person who had been sent them, and another who had read them.
It’s still just about possible that American Media’s clumsy attempt to twist Jeff Bezos’s arm was simply because it was fed up with continually being tarred as a Trump stooge.
However, Bezos’s security chief isn’t the only one suggesting a political motive for the Enquirer’s investigation.
Michael Sanchez, who says he did his own spot of sleuthing, insists several people at American Media told him that the magazine did a ‘takedown to make Trump happy’.
It surely didn’t help the company’s cause that Trump praised the Enquirer for revealing the affair.
‘So sorry to hear the news about Jeff Bozo 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,’ he carped on Twitter.
We are still none the wiser how any mole got hold of the compromising selfies in the first place. Would Ms Sanchez really share those with anybody? One possibility is that she inadvertently shared them digitally on a communal ‘cloud’, allowing friends or family to find them.
There’s yet another mystery about Bezos’s relationship with Ms Sanchez: what has happened to it?
The pair haven’t seen each other for nearly a month since their relationship was exposed, though a source close to the couple told the New York Post: ‘They’re in constant contact, but the intrigue exploding behind the scenes has made it extremely difficult for them to see each other.’
According to Michael Sanchez, they’ve been kept apart by Gavin de Becker. The security expert has a ‘strange control’ over the couple and has ‘forced’ them to stay apart while he investigates the Enquirer’s expose, he says.
Cheating spouses, high politics, and an almighty row between two of the world’s most powerful and egotistical men — the tawdry claim and counter-claim in Bozogate are enough to make anyone conclude they all royally deserve each other.