Contrary to Jeff Bezos’ suspicions, it wasn’t the White House, Saudi Arabia or hackers who provided the National Enquirer with the cache of racy text messages that the Amazon founder sent to his girlfriend. Instead, according to a new report by The Wall Street Journal, it was her brother who shared the private messages with the tabloid — after being paid an alleged $200,000 by the magazine’s publisher.
Michael Sánchez, a talent agent and Lauren Sánchez’s brother, was a longtime source for the Enquirer, the Journal reported Monday. He’d started talking to the tabloid last fall about his sister’s relationship with Bezos, the paper said, citing unnamed sources.
The Enquirer had already been trailing and photographing Bezos and Sánchez at the time of those conversations. David Pecker, American Media Inc.’s CEO, reportedly approved the payment to Sánchez so the tabloid could acquire the sexually charged text messages that the couple had sent to each other.
The Journal’s investigation corroborates a February report by The Daily Beast that had identified Michael Sánchez as the source of the text message leak. Sánchez refuted the allegation at the time. He told the Bezos-owned Washington Post that he did not share the text messages with the Enquirer; instead, he suggested that spies for foreign governments, “rival tech companies or ‘deep state’ actors within the U.S. government” could be the culprit.
The Enquirer published an 11-page spread on Bezos’ affair with TV personality and helicopter pilot Lauren Sánchez in January. The tabloid published photographs showing the couple together, as well as quotes from their private text messages. The magazine alleged the couple had been dating for at least eight months.
Bezos and his wife of 25 years, Mackenzie Bezos, announced on Jan. 9 that they were getting divorced. According to the Journal, the announcement came 48 hours after the Enquirer approached the billionaire entrepreneur for comment for their story.
The exposé kickstarted an ugly — and public — fight between Bezos and the tabloid. The Amazon chief hired an investigator, Gavin de Becker, to look into how the Enquirer had obtained his personal text messages. De Becker told the Post last month that Sanchez was a subject of his investigation.
Bezos claimed in a blog post last month that Pecker was furious about the probe and had attempted to blackmail him. The American Media Inc. chairman threatened to publish more of his text messages and images including a “dick pic,” Bezos alleged.
“Rather than capitulate to extortion and blackmail, I’ve decided to publish exactly what they sent me, despite the personal cost and embarrassment they threaten,” Bezos wrote.
In the blog post, Bezos suggested Pecker’s close relationship with President Donald Trump and his ties with the Saudi royal family may have played a role in the executive’s decision to push ahead with the Enquirer story.
“It’s unavoidable that certain powerful people who experience Washington Post news coverage will wrongly conclude I am their enemy,” Bezos wrote in the post. “President Trump is one of those people, obvious by his many tweets. Also, The Post’s essential and unrelenting coverage of the murder of its columnist Jamal Khashoggi is undoubtedly unpopular in certain circles.”
The Saudi royal family has been accused of orchestrating Khashoggi’s killing in Turkey.
A few days after Bezos aired his suspicions, the Daily Beast identified Michael Sánchez as the alleged leaker of the private text messages. According to the news outlet, Sanchez, a Trump supporter, “believed the Enquirer pursued its story about Bezos with ‘President Trump’s knowledge and appreciation.’”
Trump has said he had no knowledge of the Enquirer’s story before it was published.