What Bezos' Allegations Could Mean For American Media's Immunity Deal
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
OK, back to the legal threats of this fight between Jeff Bezos and American Media. As Alina just mentioned, AMI signed an immunity deal with federal prosecutors in New York. The deal was in exchange for cooperation and pledging not to break the law again, AMI admitted to violating campaign finance laws in order to help President Trump get elected. As Alina also just mentioned, Bezos now alleging blackmail and extortion hangs a big old question mark over the fate of this immunity deal.
To talk about that, we are joined by legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. Hi, Jeff.
JEFFERY TOOBIN: Hi.
KELLY: Hi. So AMI put out a statement this morning saying they believe fervently that the company acted lawfully but also saying they're going to look into Bezos's claim. So if he is proven right, if they find something, did AMI break the law?
TOOBIN: Well, this is a very interesting question. Extortion is obtaining a thing of value by threats. In other words, if I say to you, give me a million dollars or I'll kill you, that's extortion. Well, here there's clearly a threat. We will release these embarrassing photographs if you don't drop this investigation and clear our name.
KELLY: So the question is...
TOOBIN: So the question is...
KELLY: ...What's the thing of value?
TOOBIN: Exactly. The question is, is that service from the Washington Post a thing of value? And I think the answer clearly to that is yes. I mean, it is enormous value to AMI to be cleared by the Washington Post. However, it is not certainly a kind of extortion that I've ever heard of actually being prosecuted.
And one possible defense that AMI might offer is that, look; we are simply trying to get our name cleared through preventing unfair, inaccurate publicity, and you can't punish us for that. Now, it's not usually done through the threat of, you know, dirty pictures, but I think that sets up the argument. I don't really know the answer.
KELLY: That sets up my next question, which is, what standard would have to be met to prove that AMI violated its immunity deal?
TOOBIN: Well, the - all immunity deals and non-prosecution agreements have the condition that you must not commit any more crimes. So it's really the same question.
KELLY: Yeah, we looked it up, and it's shall not commit - shall commit no crimes whatsoever.
TOOBIN: And so if AMI were even prosecuted, I think, for this extortion or blackmail, that could void the immunity agreement right there. So - but they come down to the same question, which is was this interaction with Bezos a violation of the law?
KELLY: And without venturing too far down the road of hypotheticals, what would be the consequences if AMI was found to have violated the deal?
TOOBIN: Well, then they could be prosecuted for the unlawful campaign contribution, which is - was the money given to Karen McDougal to help the Trump campaign.
KELLY: Karen McDougal, one of the...
TOOBIN: I'm sorry.
KELLY: ...The women...
KELLY: ...Who says she had an affair with President Trump before he was president...
KELLY: ...Which he denies, OK.
TOOBIN: That $150,000 payment to her could be prosecuted as an illegal campaign contribution, which is one of the things that Michael Cohen already pleaded guilty to. That's Trump's former personal lawyer.
KELLY: Real quick in the moments we have left, you were a federal prosecutor once. Game out for me how the attorneys who signed that immunity deal are thinking about all these developments.
TOOBIN: Well, I think they have to do an investigation. You know, the Bezos post on medium.com was certainly very provocative and interesting and potentially incriminating, but I think what you have to do is start talking to everyone involved...
TOOBIN: ...You have to see what the other emails were between everyone, what - were there any phone calls between them? You have to do a thorough investigation. But it is certainly worthwhile to do that investigation because, as Bezos says, it does sound like blackmail or extortion.
KELLY: Jeffery Toobin, thank you. He is a legal analyst at CNN and a staff writer at The New Yorker. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.