Thursday, August 23, 2018

More on Blackmail

On the last episode of the KN@PP Stir Podcast, the "Thanks For Asking" question I answered had to do with the likelihood of someone trying to blackmail me. My answer focused on whether or not I'd make a good victim (spoiler: No, probably not).

The whole Trump/Cohen/Stormy Daniels hush money thing moved to the forefront of the news cycle around the same time. I wrote a Garrison Center column on it. Then today I got an unsigned contact form message to the following effect:

"Could a demand for hush money be considered blackmail or extortion?"

My reply, channeling Walter Block:

Well, yes, I would say it is OBVIOUSLY blackmail. But blackmail as such shouldn't be illegal.

Let's say that you know something about me that you did not violate my rights in coming to know. For example, you happen to be driving past a motel and you see me going into a room with a woman whom you know to not be my wife.

You know it. You have every right to tell my wife -- or, for that matter, the National Enquirer -- about it. But, knowing that I would not want you to do so, you come to me and say that you will not do so ... for $10,000.

So far, all we have is you offering to not do something that it's perfectly legal for you to do, if I pay you to not do it. Nobody's rights are violated. You didn't threaten to break my legs if I didn't pay you. You didn't bust down the door of the motel room (violating the motel owner's property rights in ownership and mine in rental) to get a picture of me with the woman.

Obviously, blackmail/extortion CAN be criminal (or a violation of contract, if we reach an agreement and then you later come back and demand more). But it isn't necessarily so.

In Trump's case, it was he who imposed "non-disclosure agreements" on his ex-wives in their divorce settlements. Maybe he did so because they threatened to "tell all" if he didn't pay them, but either way they formulated it as a perfectly legal and binding contract. Who came to whom with what offer, and how formalized it was, unless rights were violated, is just detail.

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