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National Enquirer's parent company AMI denies any wrongdoing in its reporting of Jeff Bezos

Bezos accuses AMI of extortion, blackmail

American Media Inc., the parent company behind the National Enquirer, denied any wrongdoing in its coverage of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in a statement Friday morning.

In a scathing Medium post published Thursday evening, Bezos, the Amazon founder and owner of The Washington Post, accused AMI of blackmailing him by threatening to publish intimate photographs unless Bezos publicly backed off criticisms of the media company. Bezos, who's one of the wealthiest people in the world, released what appeared to be emails from attorneys representing the company.

Last month, the National Enquirer reported a story accusing the billionaire of having an affair, publishing private text messages and photographs that prompted Bezos to launch an investigation into how the tabloid obtained the information.

But in a statement Friday morning, AMI defended its reporting, saying it "believes fervently that it acted lawfully in the reporting of the story of Mr. Bezos."

"Further, at the time of the recent allegations made by Mr. Bezos, it was in good faith negotiations to resolve all matters with him," AMI wrote in a statement. "Nonetheless, in light of the nature of the allegations published by Mr. Bezos, the Board has convened and determined that it should promptly and thoroughly investigate the claims. Upon completion of that investigation, the Board will take whatever appropriate action is necessary."

Bezos' allegations have caught the attention of federal prosecutors in New York, CBS News senior investigative producer Pat Milton reports. According to a person familiar with the matter, prosecutors in the Southern District of New York are looking into whether the alleged conduct may have violated the terms of a non-prosecution agreement with AMI.

In December, the Department of Justice struck a deal with AMI in which the company was granted immunity in exchange for cooperation. AMI admitted to playing a role in President Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, paying former Playboy model Karen McDougal $150,000 to kill her story about an alleged affair with the then-candidate.

In his Medium post, Bezos shared what appeared to be an email dated Wednesday in which Jon Fine, the deputy general counsel of AMI, asked Bezos and his attorney to publicly announce "that they have no knowledge of basis for suggesting that American Media Inc.'s coverage was politically motivated of influencer by political forces, and an agreement that they will cease referring to such a possibility." In exchange, "AM agrees not to publish, distribute, share or describe unpublished texts and photos."

Bezos brushed off the threat. "Any personal embarrassment AMI could cause me takes a back seat because there's a much more important matter involved here," Bezos wrote. "If in my position I can't stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can?"