Pity former Speaker of the House of Representatives Dennis Hastert.
He is now the defendant in a lawsuit brought by one of the anonymous individuals who were apparently extorting money from him. The extortionist wants $1.8 million.
Lest we forget, Hastert has been sentenced to 15 months in prison for having been too sneaky about withdrawing the funds he was using to pay this guy off.
From an NBC report:
When the FBI questioned Hastert about the money, he lied and said he just wanted to keep it in a safe place, prosecutors said. His lawyers later contacted agents and told them he was actually being extorted by an ex-student with a false claim of sexual abuse from decades ago.
With recorders running, the agents had Hastert speak with Individual A and claim he was having trouble coming up with the next payment. They said the other man's tone and remarks were not consistent with an extortion plot.
So the key legal distinction here is between "extortion" on the one hand and the settlement of an unbrought civil lawsuit for millions. The FBI decided the tone of the person demanding the money seemed more to fit into the latter classification than the former. That, in turn, proved to be very bad news for Hastert.
But what exactly is the distinction? Was the tone a symptom that someone was on one side rather than the other of a distinction that itself seems devilishly hard to describe? Is it that the claims used to get money from Hastert were true? (As a matter of law, that does NOT seem to be a tenable distinction.)
I'm reminded of a once-notorious book by the libertarian philosopher and gadflyWalter Block, Defending the Undefendable.
One of the 'undefendable' characters Block defended consisted of "the blackmailer," defended under the heading "free speech." If -- that is, most of us, aside from Walter Block -- if we condemn blackmailers: why? And does the reason why do so allow any room for the distinction of "tone" that seems to have swayed the FBI here?
Okay, don't pity Hastert. But the situation seems odd.