Blackmail as Modus Operandi

Latin phrases describing behavior are much in the news lately, especially quid pro quo (something for something). There is a certain elegance to such usages, removing the behavior from smarmy to acceptable in polite company.  That is, until the realities of the transactions are evaluated. Then, another Latin description emerges—modus operandi (M.O.)—a distinct method or pattern of conduct, often an element of criminal conduct.

In this regard, it has been somewhat amusing if not disingenuous to witness the use of  “no quid pro quo” by the President in the Ukrainian exchange debacle as a badge of honor, asserting it as a defense like “no collusion, no obstruction.” An analogous defensive posture had been voiced by Rudy Giuliani, explaining that the payments of hush money to two women from another lawyer’s bank accounts were legitimate even though the funds originated with “Individual One” and not violations of campaign finance laws. Here, the object of the blackmail scheme was willing to pay for secrecy, indicating a tacit acknowledgment of the nature of the crime.

In the 16th and early 17th centuries, Scottish chieftains on the border with England extorted payments from landholders under the threat of having their lands pillaged. This is the origin of the term blackmail. Under close examination, the terms offered by the President to Ukraine boil down to blackmail. In sum, you’ll get US funds for military materials and defense against the Russian occupation if you do me a favor. The deal is little different from purchasing testimonial silence from women whose stories were politically embarrassing. It would be one thing if blackmail were limited or restricted within the administration. Apparently, this is not the case.

Under the Clean Air Act of 1970, Congress encouraged the states to engage in efforts to stem air pollution and control auto emissions standards. Under waivers granted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA, a Nixon creation), a number of states, including California in July, began setting state standards. With 40 million residents and a significant pollution index from automobiles, California completed an agreement with four of the nation’s large auto manufacturers to stem pollution. As it turned out, the federal administration was intent upon weakening environmental regulations and determined that California—along with 13 other states—was coopting federal prerogatives. This week, EPA pulled its waivers—despite a pronouncement from the EPA administrator that it believed in states’ rights.

We embrace federalism and the role of the states, but federalism does not mean that one state can dictate standards for the nation.        —EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler

Such principled governance raises the question of whether this Republican administration believes in secession. Or is it to be interpreted that noncompliance with a determination to reverse environmental regulations is a more important political goal than clean air? But the EPA did not rest with rescission of the waiver.  Subsequently, the agency notified California that its backlog of projects for clean water and other air pollution effects were not acceptable, at threatening to withhold highway funding as a penalty. “It’s my way or no highway” describes this exchange.

With Ukrainian lives at stake as well as the health of millions of Americans, the administration is willing to engage in, for want of a better word, blackmail. No quid pro quo euphemism but a bare “Do it or else.” It may seem to this President that the offers are ones that the recipients cannot refuse. Prosecutors may introduce M.O. as proof of criminal conduct. The crimes need not be identical, but the prosecution must make a strong and persuasive showing of similarity among the crime charged and the other crimes.  By introducing evidence from prior or subsequent crimes to prove M.O. is done where the other crimes share peculiar and distinctive features with the crime charged.  This administration evinces a cognizable pattern of weaponizing money to achieve or extort compliance with political ends.

Blackmail is only one of a number of weapons that can be employed against the opposition. On October 5, the Bureau of Land Management announced the opening of over 700,000 acres of public land in 11 California counties for gas and oil companies to commence exploration drilling for fracking natural gas. The Center for Biological Diversity called the decision reckless, adding

Turning over these spectacular wild places to dirty drilling and fracking will sicken Californians, harm endangered species and fuel climate chaos. We’ll fight tooth and nail to make sure it doesn’t happen.

The decision overcame over 400 objections filed during the comment period. Seems like a Jethro Gibbs Rule #39 regarding coincidences. There are none.

Lay folks don’t require the education of a lawyer to discern criminal conduct nor apply Latin niceties to that behavior. Americans are a forgiving lot but do possess a limited tolerance for bad behavior by elected leaders. When the M.O. of a president is mere conspiracy as in the case of Richard Nixon’s plans to pay for the silence of the Watergate burglars, the public knows there’s fire beneath the smoke. Nixon, it may be recalled, attempted to obtain “dirt” on Lyndon Johnson’s cessation of bombing in Vietnam to accuse him of bolstering the candidacy of Hubert Humphrey. Whether a party is the blackmailer or the target of the blackmail, the crime supports an M.O. Ukrainians and the citizens of California are nothing more than victims in the grand schemes of some powerful people. As recognition of the Latinate character of our discussion, sine qua non (it goes without saying) and quod erat demonstrandum (what was to be shown) are offered to brighten some concepts. In any event, blackmail is a perfectly appropriate name for the criminal behavior exposed.







Categories: Issues, Local, National

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