bureaucracybusters

COPING EFFECTIVELY WITH BLACKMAIL

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on July 3, 2017 at 12:10 am

J. Edgar Hoover, the legendary FBI director, was notorious in his own lifetime as a blackmailer.

“Boy, the dirt he has on those Senators,” President John F. Kennedy told his friend, Benjamin C. Bradlee, who was then head of Newsweek’s Washington bureau.

As President, Kennedy could call on Hoover to give him limited access to the private files the FBI director kept on real and potential enemies. But Kennedy had known about Hoover’s incriminating dossiers long before he reached the White House.

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J. Edgar Hoover

During 1941-42, he had enjoyed a delicious affair with Inga Arvad, a Danish journalist and notorious fan of Germany’s Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler.

Suspected of being a Nazi spy, “Inga Binga,” as JFK jokingly referred to her, came under heavy FBI surveillance—including phone taps and room bugs. These picked up Kennedy’s trysts with her.

When the Kennedy patriarch, Joseph P., learned of the affair, he demanded that his son break it off. He had political ambitious for all his sons, and he didn’t want them spoiled by Jack’s owing to an uncontrollable libido.

Richard Nixon—Kennedy’s future rival for the White House—felt the same way about Hoover: “He’s got files on everybody.” 

And this was virtually true—even if those files didn’t hold secretly-obtained information. Nixon learned this as President when he wanted “dirt” on Senator Edward M. Kennedy. In this case, the “file” turned out to be nothing more than newspaper clippings.

As William C. Sullivan, the onetime director of the FBI’s Domestic Intelligence Division, revealed after Hoover’s death in 1972:

“The moment [Hoover] would get something on a senator, he’d send one of the errand boys up and advise the senator that ‘we’re in the course of an investigation, and we by chance happened to come up with this data on your daughter.

“‘But we wanted you to know this. We realize you’d want to know it.’ Well, Jesus, what does that tell the senator? From that time on, the senator’s right in his pocket.” 

There is a lesson to be learned here: Giving in to blackmail only empowers the blackmailer even more.

The only effective way to handle blackmail was demonstrated by Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, hosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” a weekday news and talk show.

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Mika Brzezinski

Both have been highly critical of President Donald Trump since he took office on January 20. And Trump—through his friendship with David Pecker, the publisher of the tabloid, The National Enquirer—thought he had the ideal way of shutting them up.

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Joe Scarborough

On the June 30 edition of “Morning Joe,” Scarborough and Brezezinski offered their version of events.

Scarborough: “We got a call: ‘Hey, the National Enquirer is going to run a negative story against you guys, and Donald is friends with …the president is friends with the guy that runs National Enquirer.’ And they said: ‘If you call the president up and you apologize for your coverage, then he will pick up the phone and basically spike the story.’ 

“I had, I will just say, three people at the very top of the administration calling me. The calls kept coming, and kept coming, and they were like: ‘Come on, Joe, just pick up the phone and call him.’”

Donald Trump

One of the callers was reportedly Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law. 

In short: Grovel before the dictator and he will bestow clemency on you. 

Trump denied being a party to blackmail, but he confirmed that there had been calls between the TV journalists and members of his staff.  In a June 30 tweet, Trump wrote: “He called me to stop a National Enquirer article. I said no! Bad show”.

Scarborough and Brzezinski provided further details in a June 30 Washington Post column: “This year, top White House staff members warned that the National Enquirer was planning to publish a negative article about us unless we begged the president to have the story spiked. We ignored their desperate pleas.” 

The story, which appeared on June 5, alleged that the two, previously married, had cheated on their former spouses. The story was entitled: “Joe & Mika: TV Couple’s Sleazy Cheating Scandal: ‘Morning’ lovebirds vow to make it legal. THE ENQUIRER asks questions!” 

By rejecting Trump’s blackmail threat, Scarborough and Brzezinski accomplished what they could not have by groveling: 

First, they put Trump on notice that they can’t be cowed. This can only encourage future targets of such blackmail to stand up against abuse. 

Second, they deprived him of a potent weapon. Had they caved in to his demand for an unearned apology, they would have made themselves targets for future blackmail. 

Third, they turned the tables by making Trump the target of ugly publicity. Blackmailers are universally reviled, and branding Trump as one detracts from his dignity and influence as President.

Fourth, they forced Trump and the Enquirer on the defensive—with both denying that they ever tried to blackmail Scarborough and Brzezinski.

Considering Trump’s well-earned reputation for lying and vindictiveness, Scarborough and Brzezinski are certain to be more widely believed than the President.

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