The Alleged Blackmail of Jeff Bezos: Did Legal Counsel for the National Enquirer Breach His Professional Duties?
It is alleged that the National Enquirer blackmailed Jeff Bezos by threatening to publish humiliating photographs and messages. In exchange for not publishing the information, the National Enquirer wanted Bezos to stop his criticism of the paper.
To manage the situation, Bezos wrote an article titled “No Thank You, Mr. Pecker”. In the article, Bezos exposed multiple emails directed at him from the National Enquirer (American Media, LLC). One of the emails included an email message from American Media, LLC’s legal counsel, as seen below.
From: Fine, Jon [email@example.com] (Deputy General Counsel, AMI)
Sent: Wednesday, February 6, 2019 5:57 PM
To: Martin Singer (Mr de Becker’s attorney)
Subject: Re: EXTERNAL* RE: Bezos et al / American Media et al
Here are our proposed terms:
- A full and complete mutual release of all claims that American Media, on the one hand, and Jeff Bezos and Gavin de Becker (the “Bezos Parties”), on the other, may have against each other.
- A public, mutually-agreed upon acknowledgment from the Bezos Parties, released through a mutually-agreeable news outlet, affirming that they have no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AM’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces, and an agreement that they will cease referring to such a possibility.
- AM agrees not to publish, distribute, share, or describe unpublished texts and photos (the “Unpublished Materials”).
- AM affirms that it undertook no electronic eavesdropping in connection with its reporting and has no knowledge of such conduct.
- The agreement is completely confidential.
- In the case of a breach of the agreement by one or more of the Bezos Parties, AM is released from its obligations under the agreement, and may publish the Unpublished Materials.
- Any other disputes arising out of this agreement shall first be submitted to JAMS mediation in California
Deputy General Counsel, Media
American Media, LLC
Did the Deputy General Counsel breach his professional obligations in writing this email? Was he helping American Media, LLC allegedly blackmail Jeff Bezos?
In Canada, counsel’s actions for American Media LLC could be considered unlawful and in breach of his professional obligations. The Criminal Code in Canada defines extortion at section 346:
- 346(1) Every one commits extortion who, without reasonable justification or excuse and with intent to obtain anything, by threats, accusations, menaces or violence induces or attempts to induce any person, whether or not he is the person threatened, accused or menaced or to whom violence is shown, to do anything or cause anything to be done.
In Ontario, the Rules of Professional Conduct state:
Dishonesty, Fraud, etc. by Client or Others
3.2-7 A lawyer shall not
(a) knowingly assist in or encourage any dishonesty, fraud, crime, or illegal conduct;
(b) do or omit to do anything that the lawyer ought to know assists in, encourages or facilitates any dishonesty, fraud, crime, or illegal conduct by a client or any other person…
I think in Canada, counsel’s actions could be considered to have knowingly assisted in dishonesty, crime, or illegal conduct.
Counsel’s actions beg the question, how often has American Media, LLC used this tactic. Was it used so frequently that it gave American Media, LLC the confidence to threaten one of the richest men in the world?
(Views are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization. I note that the accusations of blackmail against the National Enquirer have not been proven in court.)