News Brief: Bezos Accuses 'Enquirer' Of Extortion, Supreme Court, Democrats' Agenda
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is at war with the National Enquirer and its parent company, AMI.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Yeah. Bezos laid out this explosive allegation in a post on the blog site Medium last night. In it, Bezos says the tabloid's owner, David Pecker, was trying to blackmail him. In the post, he writes, quote, "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."
Now, Bezos says the company was threatening to release intimate photos of him in an effort to stop him from finding out how the National Enquirer had obtained his private photos and text messages documenting an extramarital affair. Bezos also implies here that the reason for the blackmail is that he is the owner of the Washington Post, which has been dogged in its reporting about President Trump.
MARTIN: So much to talk about here. NPR's Uri Berliner is here to help us understand this story. Hi, Uri.
URI BERLINER, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.
MARTIN: So David mentioned there some intimate photos revealing an extramarital affair. Can you tell us more about what exactly the National Enquirer had on Bezos?
BERLINER: Yeah. They said they had a series of photographs of Bezos and Lauren Sanchez, the woman that he had been having an affair with, very sexually suggestive, lewd photographs that they were threatening to publish unless Bezos backed off from his investigation into how AMI, the parent company of the National Enquirer, obtained those photographs. And that's - he really wanted to find out how those personal texts and photos leaked.
MARTIN: Right. So in this long Medium post, Bezos just publishes some of the emails that he says are from AMI. What do they say?
BERLINER: Yeah. So Bezos, you know, basically says, OK, you've got these photos on me. I've got these emails from you, from officials from AMI. And basically, they're saying that they want Bezos to stop investigating. One of them from an AMI official proposes some terms to end the dispute with Bezos. It says it will agree not to publish any of the texts or photos. But in exchange, Bezos must say that AMI's coverage of his affair was not politically motivated. The other email described some of those suggestive photos that we've been talking about.
I reached out to AMI for comment. I've not heard back from them. But Bezos in his post says there is a political motivation here.
MARTIN: I mean, let's just spend a second talking about that. There are all kinds of political threads to this, right? As we noted, like, David Pecker is a good friend of Donald Trump's. And Jeff Bezos is the owner of the Washington Post, a paper that has been pretty critical and aggressive in the reporting over Donald Trump, right?
BERLINER: Absolutely. The Post has been very aggressive in its reporting of Trump. Trump has also feuded with Amazon, the company that Jeff Bezos founded. He claims they get all kinds of breaks. They're not paying their fair share of taxes. So this has been an ongoing feud between between President Trump and Bezos, who owns the Post and founded Amazon.
MARTIN: And remind us about the National Enquirer's connection to the investigations into Donald Trump because David Pecker was granted immunity in the investigation into Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen because Pecker was involved into those illicit payments to Karen McDougal, right?
BERLINER: Right. The National Enquirer acknowledged paying hush money to a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with Trump. She was paid 150,000 during the 2016 campaign. And so that's really what happened there.
MARTIN: He also refers to his ownership of the Post as being a complexifier for him, which is an odd word. But, I mean, what more does he say about his role as the owner of the Post?
BERLINER: He says, (laughter) yeah, it's a complexifier, difficult, but he has no regrets about owning the Post. And it's - he says it's - when he looks back on his life, owning the Post and supporting its mission is something he'll remain proud of at age 90.
MARTIN: OK. NPR's Uri Berliner for us. Thanks, Uri.
BERLINER: You're welcome.
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MARTIN: The U.S. Supreme Court has blocked the state of Louisiana from implementing a restrictive new abortion law before then ruling on its constitutionality.
GREENE: Yes. So this ruling right now puts a temporary stay on the law, which means clinics that perform abortions can keep operating for the time being until the court does rule on the constitutionality.
MARTIN: Supreme Court reporter Amy Howe is with us to talk through the ruling and the dissent because there was some. Amy, thanks for being here.
AMY HOWE: Hey, good morning. Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: First, before we talk about the implications, what exactly would this law do in Louisiana?
HOWE: A lot of it depends on exactly how it plays out. And that is part of Justice Brett Kavanaugh's dissent, which we can talk about. But the opponents of the law say that if the law's allowed to go into effect, there'd only be one doctor to provide abortions in the early stages of pregnancy and none at all for women seeking abortions after 17 weeks of pregnancy.
MARTIN: You mentioned Justice Kavanaugh's dissent. What did he say?
HOWE: So he was the only one who wrote to explain why he would have denied the stay that the opponents of the law were seeking. He would have allowed the law to go into effect. There were four justices altogether - Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch in addition to Kavanaugh all said they would deny the stay and allow the law to go into effect.
But what Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the court's newest justice, wrote is that a central legal question in the case is whether this requirement that doctors who perform abortions in Louisiana have to have admitting privileges will impose an undue burden, which is the legal standard for whether a law violates the Constitution, on a woman's right to have an abortion depends on a factual question, whether the doctors in this case can actually get admitting privileges.
And that's disputed. The District Court in this case, the trial court, said that they wouldn't be able to, and the Court of Appeals said that they would be able to. And so what Justice Kavanaugh said is instead of putting the law on hold and speculating about this, let's figure it out during the 45-day transition period because if the doctors can get admitting privileges, there's no undue burden, and the law should be allowed to stand. If they can't, he said, they can come back to court.
And this would be faster than doing it the way the court's going to do it, which ultimately probably will wind up with a decision sometime in the summer of 2020.
MARTIN: Let me ask you about how it broke, though - 5 to 4. John Roberts, the chief justice, sided with the liberals. Was that surprising?
HOWE: It was, yes. To be sure, the court was not writing on a blank slate because in 2016, the Supreme Court had struck down a similar law from Texas. But in that case, it was Justice Anthony Kennedy who joined the court's former liberal justices, and the chief justice, John Roberts, was actually in dissent. We don't know what his reasoning was to vote this - to vote with the four more liberal justices last night. But we do know that he's an institutionalist. So even if he might believe that the law is constitutional in a vacuum, perhaps this Texas case from three years ago says otherwise.
MARTIN: Amy Howe reports on the Supreme Court for the SCOTUSblog. Amy, thanks for being here this morning. We appreciate it.
HOWE: Thanks for inviting me.
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MARTIN: The will-he-or-won't-he debate is over. Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker goes before the House Judiciary Committee today.
GREENE: Yeah. House Democrats have been eager to press Whitaker on his interactions with President Trump and his oversight of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, even threatening to subpoena him if he didn't show up. Whether he'll answer their more sensitive questions about the investigation is, of course, another matter, but we'll find out. House Democrats are feeling emboldened with their new majority. This is House Oversight Chair Elijah Cummings on Wednesday at a hearing on strengthening ethics rules for the executive branch.
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ELIJAH CUMMINGS: The American people gave this Congress and this committee a mandate to restore our democracy and clean up our government.
MARTIN: All right. For more on House - on how House Democrats are using their newfound power, we've got NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell in the studio. Good morning, Kelsey.
KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Good morning.
MARTIN: So first off, let's talk about Matt Whitaker. The acting AG is going to go before the Judiciary Committee today. What are they going to ask him?
SNELL: Well, first of all, this happened after a week of kind of back-and-forth. Whitaker originally threatened not to show up because Democrats on the committee were essentially threatening to subpoena him. But he agreed to appear last night. And Democrats say they want to ask him specifically about the Russia investigation.
They are going to ask lots of questions. They're probably going to touch on things like the child separation policy or potentially about immigration and health care. But this will be largely about the Russia investigation, how much people know about it and how much the - inside of the attorney general's office, how much they're talking to the president about that. And it'll be public, so we'll watch that happen.
MARTIN: This hearing with Whitaker comes at the end of a week where Democrats started to follow through on campaign promises to investigate the president, to investigate his administration. One of those promises - Democrats have pledged to look into Trump's tax returns. Is that going to be part of this oversight push?
SNELL: It absolutely is. We just don't know how fast it's going to move. Just the other day, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that she was - wanting people to be cautious. She wants people to be careful about this because sensitive tax returns are a really serious thing, and releasing them quickly has a lot of potential implications and potential legal implications if the president decides not to comply.
But, you know, it's important to think about this in the context of broader oversight that Democrats want to do. They are moving forward from the shutdown. And they want to spend their time making sure that they make good on promises to investigate this president, and this week was all about that.
MARTIN: Is - does that jeopardize their other agenda items? Because they're not just about investigating the president, right?
SNELL: They say that it doesn't. They want to do other things. They want to make health care more affordable. They want to have conversations about climate change. But really, when you are - Democrats are the - only controlling the House. They don't have power over the Senate or the White House. So it's hard to legislate. Doing these investigations allows them to put their stamp on everything - on guns, on child separation, like we talked about, and even on the environment.
MARTIN: Meanwhile, I can't let you go without asking about the border security talks because there is this panel of lawmakers who are trying to come up with a border security agreement to avert yet another government shutdown. Are they making progress?
SNELL: We are told that things are looking good and that they are negotiating in good faith, but a deal is not in hand yet. And I've been told by some people privately that they think that they might need a little bit more time than just next week. So this could get extended if they can't get a deal in the next couple of days.
MARTIN: The deadline's the 15, right?
SNELL: The 15.
MARTIN: OK. We'll be following it. NPR's Kelsey Snell for us this morning. Thanks, Kelsey.
SNELL: Thank you.
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