A lawyer for National Enquirer owner American Media Inc.'s CEO defended the company's correspondence with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, saying AMI did nothing illegal.
"It absolutely is not extortion and not blackmail," Elkan Abramowitz, attorney for AMI CEO David Pecker, said Sunday on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos."
His comments came after Bezos published a blog post Thursday accusing AMI of attempting to blackmail him with threats to publish a trove of embarrassing photos, including some of a sexual nature.
The clash followed the Enquirer's previous publication of a report on Bezos' breakup with his wife and his romantic relationship with former Los Angeles news anchor Lauren Sanchez.
Bezos on Thursday posted emails in which AMI representatives offered to withhold publication of the embarrassing photos in exchange for Bezos acknowledging that the tabloid owner had no political motivation for publishing its original expose. Pecker has supported Donald Trump, and Trump has repeatedly criticized Bezos, who owns The Washington Post.
"That is not extortion because all that AMI wanted was the truth," Abramowitz told "This Week," adding that the company was making a "news decision" and that the Bezos correspondence "was part of a legitimate negotiation."
AMI representatives declined to comment further Sunday on Abramowitz's remarks.
Among the accusations Bezos made was that Pecker and AMI have murky ties to the Saudi Arabian government, potentially through a pro-Saudi publication released in 2018.
"The Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve," Bezos wrote.
The Bezos allegations came after AMI signed a non-prosecution agreement with the U.S. attorneys in connection with the government's investigation into Trump's presidential campaign.
If AMI is found to have committed a crime, the company would not be immune to prosecution, said Michael Conway, a lawyer who has represented media organizations such as the New York Times and ABC, and now teaches at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.
Conway said the AMI correspondence "certainly has the elements of blackmail," which would "blow up" the company's deal with the government.
Abramowitz said he's "absolutely not" concerned that the Bezos revelations could affect that agreement.
Stuart Karle, a former Dow Jones attorney and Reuters executive who teaches media law at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, said the situation is fraught with peril for American Media. But he said “it seems unlikely to me that whatever happened here” would “destroy” the company.
“There are a lot of steps between this kind of correspondence and a formal criminal charge,” he said.
However, “corporations can be destroyed by criminal charges” or can be forced into a sale to pay off liabilities in civil cases, he added.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: American Media lawyer denies attempt at blackmail, extortion of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos