National Enquirer Owner Considered Registering as a Foreign Agent for Saudis, Report Says

American Media Inc., which is currently embroiled in a scandal with Jeff Bezos, put out a magazine which was slammed as pro-Saudi propaganda in 2018

A glossy magazine about Saudi Arabia is photographed in Washington, Monday April 23, 2018
J. David A / AP file photo

American Media Inc., the parent company which owns the National Enquirer, asked the Justice Department last year if it needed to register as a foreign agent, The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday.

The company and its CEO, David Pecker, are making headlines after Amazon.com Inc Chief Executive Jeff Bezos made public an email exchange in which Bezo’s alleges Pecker tried to blackmail him with involvement from Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia said on Sunday that it had "absolutely nothing to do" with the National Enquirer's reporting on Bezos' extramarital relationship, the kingdom's minister of state for foreign affairs said.

On Thursday, Bezos took to Medium to accuse American Media Inc (AMI), the Enquirer's owner, of trying to blackmail him with the threat of publishing "intimate photos" he allegedly sent to his girlfriend unless he publicly declared that the U.S. tabloid's reporting on him was not politically motivated.

Image of American Media, Inc. magazine 'The New Kingdom'
Screen shot

“The Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve,” Bezos wrote in his Medium post. He also noted that AMI CEO David Pecker and his company have been “investigated for various actions they’ve taken on behalf of the Saudi Government.”

Bezo’s drew a connection between his ownership of the Washington Post, the newspapers critical coverage in the murder of Saudi journalist and Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and Pecker’s attempted “blackmail.”

The Wall Street Journal report included a July 2018 letter from the Justice Department, which stated that the department determined the company did not need to register as a foreign agent.

“We understand [U.S. corporation] to be a print media company that engages in the publication of a number of popular magazines. [U.S. corporation] also publishes, [other publications], each of which addresses a particular topic or public figure(s). According to your submission, these publications are funded completely by sales and do not contain advertisements,” the letter reads.

NBC News notes that although the letter is largely redacted, "the timing, facts and circumstances all line up precisely with AMI's unusual publication of a magazine about Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his March 2018 visit to the U.S."

A person familiar with Saudi Arabia's lobbying efforts in the U.S. confirmed to NBC News that AMI and the Saudi government are the entities referred to in the letter, which was first made public by The Wall Street Journal.

In April 2018, the Associated Press revealed that the Saudi Embassy in Washington had been given an advance copy of the magazine, which was later sold across the U.S. without any ads inside. It was slammed by other publications as pro-Saudi propaganda.

Reuters contributed to this report