Hush Money and Blackmail

Free Dennis Hastert.

Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert may be a creep, a pervert, a pedophile, a sexual predator, a child abuser, a child molester, a sex offender, and a Republican, but that is not why he was recently fined $250,000 and sentenced to fifteen months in prison, to be followed by two years of supervised release.

I am not necessarily accusing him of being any of these things, except, of course, of the grave sin of being the Republican speaker of the House during the Bush presidency when the Republicans doubled the national debt, expanded the size and scope of government, and launched two senseless wars. However, many are making these accusations, including some men who claim that Hastert molested them when they were in high school. And the judge who sentenced him did call him a “serial child molester” and order him to enroll in a sex-offender treatment program. King James, His Bible,... Laurence M. Vance Best Price: $15.50 Buy New $19.95 (as of 03:25 EST - Details)

Because the statute of limitations for Hastert’s alleged real crimes has expired, he can’t be tried, found guilty, and sentenced to prison for sex crimes. Some are saying that it is good that Hastert is going to prison regardless of the reason since he should be in prison for his alleged sex crimes. As much as I despise Hastert’s politics and personal behavior, I disagree. If there is a statute of limitations, then crime victims should come forward before it expires. If the statute of limitations is too short, then it should be lengthened. But no one should be convicted of something as a substitute for something else.

Hastert was indicted last year for the non-crimes of structuring bank transactions (Title 31, U.S.C., §5313) and making false statements to the government about the transactions (Title 18, U.S.C., §1001).

In the course of paying a promised $3.5 million in “hush money” to one of his victims “in order to compensate for and conceal prior misconduct,” Hastert made a series of cash withdrawals of $50,000 from accounts at several banks. But since the government doesn’t like bank transactions over $10,000, bank officials began questioning Hastert about the withdrawals. Hastert then “structured” his withdrawals to be under $10,000 so as not to run afoul of the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970. Mises Institute president Jeff Deist did a good job of skewing this law back when Hastert was indicted.

Should it be a crime to make false statements to the U.S. government—a criminal organization that makes false statements all the time about all kinds of things? (See, for example, my article “The Lying State.”) Should it be a crime to make false statements to the U.S. government to protect yourself from prosecution for things you did that should not be crimes? I will leave it up to you to decide.

Hastert pleaded guilty to the structuring charge in October of 2015 but was not sentenced until last month.

The issue that I want to raise in relation to Hastert is that of hush money. Many of the headlines to stories about Hastert accuse him of paying hush money. What is implied, of course, is that hush money is a bad thing that no one should be paying.

Hush money and blackmail have historically gotten a bad rap. War, Christianity, and... Laurence M. Vance Best Price: $4.99 Buy New $9.95 (as of 03:10 EST - Details)

Hush money is money that one party offers to pay another party in exchange for keeping quiet about something. The other side of the coin is blackmail, which can be defined as one party demanding money to be paid by another party in exchange for keeping quiet about something. (I know that, technically, blackmail may involve neither money nor silence and merely refer to the threat to do something unless certain demands are met, but blackmail involving money for silence is the most common form.)

Either way, what is being purchased is silence. It might be silence about illegal activity, an extramarital affair, a sexual encounter, an abortion, sexual orientation, a shameful or embarrassing action, something that was said, the authenticity of a document, the knowledge of some event, one’s ancestry, drug addiction, the contents of a safe deposit box, the existence of an illegitimate child, some proposed future action, a medical condition, a business deal, or the reading of a will.

In any case, in theory, if the price offered for silence is judged to be greater than the secret is worth, then the money will be accepted and the secret not revealed. And if the price offered for silence is judged to be less than the secret is worth, then the money will be rejected and the secret revealed.

Conversely, in theory, if the price demanded silence is judged to be less than the secret is worth, then the money will be paid and the secret not revealed. And if the price demanded silence is judged to be greater than the secret is worth, then the money won’t be paid and the secret revealed.

There are, of course, a number of problems relating to hush money and blackmail payments.

One, the holder of the secret, the payee, may accept the money and still divulge the secret. Two, the holder of the secret may never have intended to reveal it, in which case the money was paid for nothing. Three, even if the War, Empire, and the M... Laurence M. Vance Best Price: $16.00 Buy New $9.95 (as of 03:10 EST - Details) demand of the holder of the secret is rejected, he might not necessarily disclose the secret, thus keeping the one wanting silence in suspense. Four, the one who wants the holder of the secret to keep quiet may not know—now, later, or forever—that the secret has already been revealed. Fifth, the holder of the secret may demand more money to ensure his silence—once, twice, or many times in the future—after the initial receipt of the hush money or blackmail payments. Sixth, even worse, the holder of the secret may demand future money even though he does not intend to divulge the secret. And finally, there is generally no legal recourse for the payer of hush money or blackmail payments if the holder of his secret refuses to remain silent.

Is it just, moral, and ethical to offer to pay someone for silence? Perhaps. Is it just, moral, and ethical to demand that someone pay for silence? Perhaps not. But in view of the problems relating to hush money and blackmail payments, it is certainly not a wise thing to pay either.

One thing is for sure, though, it should never be illegal for one party to offer to pay another party for silence or for one party to demand payment from another party for silence. What is unjust, immoral, and unethical should not necessarily be criminal.

This principle is something that libertarians alone seem to recognize. After all, an offer is merely an offer to be accepted or rejected, and a demand is merely a demand to be accepted or rejected. As long as there is no coercion, force, aggression, or violence involved in the offer or demand, or the threat of coercion, force, aggression, or violence, there is nothing criminal about them.

Every crime needs a tangible victim with measurable damages. Offering to pay hush money or demanding a blackmail payment should not be crimes.

Dennis Hastert should be freed so he can face his accusers for his alleged real crimes. Let him withdraw as much money from his bank account as he needs to compensate his victims.