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David Pecker, chairman and CEO of American Media Inc., used the National Enquirer story on Jeff Bezos' affair as a way to make amends with longtime friend President Donald Trump, a former senior editor for the tabloid claims.
The relationship between AMI, owner of the Enquirer, and Trump has been tense ever since the media company agreed last year to cooperate with New York federal prosecutors, according to Jerry George, who spent 28 years at the tabloid, including as senior editor and Los Angeles bureau chief.
The AMI agreement in connection with a hush-money payment given to Karen McDougal, the Playboy model who claims to have had an affair with Trump, caused a "falling out" between Pecker and the president, George told CNBC on Friday.
"The Bezos divorce ordinarily wouldn't be registered on the Enquirer 'Richter scale' other than that he is the archenemy of President Trump," George said in a "Squawk on the Street" interview. "I think American Media and David Pecker tried to make amends and brought this divorce story to the president as a means of kissing and making up."
George said he left the tabloid is 2013. "The financial hardships of the company were taking its toll," he said.
AMI has not responded to CNBC's request for comment on George's assertions.
Trump has been a frequent critic of Bezos, the founder of Amazon who also personally owns The Washington Post. The president has used Twitter repeatedly to blast the e-commerce giant for not paying enough taxes and the newspaper of having a negative bias against his administration.
In a bombshell blog post Thursday, Bezos accused the National Enquirer's publisher of threatening to post sexual pictures that the billionaire had texted to his mistress. He accused AMI of blackmail and extortion.
Amazon has not responded to CNBC's requests for comment.
AMI denied Bezos' claims, saying in a statement, "American Media believes fervently that it acted lawfully in the reporting of the story of Mr. Bezos," adding, however, the board determined "it should promptly and thoroughly investigate the claims."
Stu Zakim, a former spokesman for AMI, told CNBC on Friday that he also suspects the Enquirer story was politically motivated. "There was a falling out, we thought, between Pecker and Trump when all of sudden the National Enquirer stopped covering him as lovingly as they did."
As for the White House, a press official told CNBC he's not sure if Trump is aware of the situation, adding he's "not going to get into a conversation about something between Jeff Bezos and a tabloid magazine."