Jeff Bezos opined recently that, “the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve,” and also cryptically inferred that his recent contretemps with American Media and David Pecker was linked to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, “for reasons still to be better understood.” What Bezos is unquestionably referring to at this juncture is the fact that David Pecker has been currying favor with Mohammad bin Salman for many years. Pecker seemingly has no problem attempting to blackmail American billionaire Bezos, while he does everything in his power to get into bed financially with the corrupt MBS government, including producing a pro-Saudi tabloid, which praised it. That move, incredibly, raised the issue of whether American Media might be a foreign agent of MBS, and Pecker put the question to the Justice Department. Wall Street Journal:
American Media also produced a promotional magazine about Saudi Arabia. To commemorate Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to the U.S. in March 2018, American Media published 200,000 copies of a 97-page, advertisement-free glossy magazine titled “The New Kingdom,” promoting the country and its young prince, then 32 years old.
In a sign American Media was concerned its connection to Saudi Arabia could become an issue, the company sought advice from the Justice Department last year about whether it should register as a foreign agent—a status under which any organization engaged in public relations under the direction or control of a foreign government may fall—according to a Justice Department letter to the company responding to its inquiry. The publisher wrote to the Justice Department after several news outlets wrote about the publication of the pro-Saudi magazine. […]
A person familiar with the matter confirmed American Media wrote to the Justice Department after publishing the magazine celebrating Prince Mohammed. “Frankly, it was done to kiss his ass when he came to visit in the hopes he’d invest in the company and it didn’t work,” the person said of the magazine. “There was nothing more to it than that.”
Pecker’s producing a pro-Saudi tabloid, “The New Kingdom,” while admittedly a bit bizarre at the time, is not a particularly surprising move if one considers how incestuous the relationships between Trump, the Saudis, and AMI have always been. Associated Press:
The worlds of Trump, the Saudis and AMI have overlapped before, often in dizzying ways. The Trump administration has aggressively courted the Saudis and found a willing partner on a range of issues, including Iran, counterterrorism and Middle East peace, in the kingdom’s royal family. And AMI’s flagship publication, The National Enquirer, has been accused by critics of acting as a keeper of secrets for Trump.
AMI denies that it shared an advance copy of “The New Kingdom” with the Saudis or consulted with them on the project, and AMI says the Saudis did not pay the company to produce the magazine. But an individual with knowledge of the situation said AMI indeed reached out to Saudi officials in the U.S. before publication to seek help with the content. The Saudis never responded, said the individual, who wasn’t authorized to comment publicly and requested anonymity.
Merely sharing an advance copy with the Saudis, while a deviation from traditional journalistic practice, is not legally problematic for AMI. But the unusual circumstances and continuing mystery of the magazine’s origins have led legal experts to point out a separate issue in federal lobbying law: If the Saudis or any other foreign government did direct or pay any company to produce such a magazine, that company would be required to register with the government under the Foreign Agent Registration Act.
Pecker told the Justice Department that the magazine was not produced with Saudi money and the DOJ told Pecker that, on those facts, he did not have to register as a foreign agent, with the proviso that a different ruling would take place if facts surfaced that “are different in any way from those depicted in your submission.”
Pecker’s ambition, besides his main one of acting as Trump’s keeper of the flame, was to obtain Saudi dark money and expand AMI’s media horizons considerably. Wall Street Journal, April 18, 2018:
In 2016 and 2017, Mr. Pecker explored acquiring Time Inc. or some of its properties, hoping to boost AMI’s online business and capitalize on its brand to expand in podcasting, television production and events, people familiar with the matter said. Meredith eventually bought the publisher.
Mr. Pecker’s offer to Meredith earlier this year, first reported by Vanity Fair, was for [the purchase of] Time Inc. weeklies including TIME magazine, Sports Illustrated, Fortune and Money, the people said. Meredith rejected the offer, but has since put those titles on the block. AMI said in March it no longer had any interest in acquiring any former Time Inc. brands.
To finance the potential deals, Mr. Pecker has engaged in talks with financiers in Saudi Arabia on and off, although no deal was reached, people familiar with the matter said. In one instance, Mr. Pecker invited a Saudi-connected businessman to the White House for an Oval Office tour in July 2017 along with the Enquirer’s Mr. Howard, during which they met with the president.
The company confirmed the contacts but said the only deal that has ever been discussed with Saudi investors is the expansion of the Mr. Olympia bodybuilding competition, which AMI owns, into the Middle East and North Africa.
The Middle East was one of the first places Jared Kusher went looking for a bailout on his troubled 666 Fifth Avenue building. Kushner also asked Prince Mohammed for input on his Mideast peace initiative. Further, he made an unannounced visit early on in the Trump administration to Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia was also Donald Trump’s first overseas destination upon taking office.
According to the New York Times, Pecker dined at the White House with Trump and an unnamed French businessman with close business ties to the Saudis, then traveled to Riyadh to solicit funding from Saudi investors so that he could acquire TIME Magazine — all of this, in addition to the “catch and kill” stories, and putting Trump on the cover of the National Enquirer “more times than Arnold Schwarzenegger” as Trump likes to boast. The Associated Press says, “Pecker is close to Trump and his struggling tabloid empire also has ties to the president’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen.” Now that connection should prove to be an interesting one in the very near future, as Cohen’s testimony fleshes out just exactly who did what and what Trump knew and when he knew it. Interesting how that testimony keeps getting postponed, isn’t it? Cohen’s February 12 testimony just got continued to an unspecified date, while he undergoes a medical procedure.
Think of David Pecker as the linchpin on a string of box cars, and the National Enquirer as the locomotive. All the cars are connected, and they all hook up in line behind Pecker. Alas, it looks like there’s trouble on the tracks right ahead, and Robert Mueller’s investigation will derail this particular choo choo in the very near future.
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