Civil Liberties

It's Not the Crime; It's the Cover-Up—Even If There Is No Crime


Focusing on a bizarre case involving whale "harassment" that was never actually alleged, The Wall Street Journal highlights the perils of Title 18, Section 1001, which makes lying to federal officials a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. The provision, commonly used by federal prosecutors when they can't make other charges stick, applies to anyone who, "in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully 1) falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact; 2) makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or 3) makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry." The Journal cites a former Justice Department official who "says the law is so vague that harmless misstatements can be turned into federal felonies." It adds that "a person can be charged even if the lie didn't really fool anyone, or if the person didn't know the criminal consequences of fibbing."

The main case discussed by the Journal involves Nancy Black, a California marine biologist accused of violating this statute by 1) editing video of a whale watching excursion she oversaw and 2) failing to inform the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that the video was edited. The NOAA supposedly was investigating whale harassment, but no one was ever charged with that offense.  Black says she provided the footage she thought the feds wanted (showing a captain whistling at a humpback whale), and no one ever asked her if it was edited. The Journal also notes a potential Supreme Court case in which an Idaho farmer was charged with violating the statute by allegedly lying to a state livestock inspector, on the theory that he thereby impeded enforcement of federal water regulations.

NEXT: Government Bureaucrats Still Unable to Write or Speak in Plain Language

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  1. The NOAA supposedly was investigating whale harassment, but no one was ever charged with that offense.

    But there is NO FAT TO CUT in the federal budget. If we had a budget, that is. Which we don’t.

    1. You’re just saying that cause you hate the whales.

      1. Mmmmm, whale fat

    2. Wait, there’s a law against harassing whales?

      [cue Jezebel snarkfest]

      1. Does it matter? They can still find something to charge you with.

        1. How about lying?

          1. Lying, for example.

  2. This law provides that anyone lying about anything in the g’ment is guilty of a felony. When the CIA lie to a Congressman, it’s a felony, when the Prez lies to his own cabinet, it’s a felony. There was the book, 3 felonies a day, anyone in g’ment would be guilty of dozens of felonies a day.

    1. Those rules don’t apply to our betters, #7. Just like insider trading, racketeering, perjury, fraud, libel and DUI.

    2. When a high ranking DOJ official lies to a Congressional panel investigating the ATF’s misconduct, it’s a felony, etc.

    3. IIRC that’s exactly what they did to Scooter Libby – lying to investigators.

  3. What asshole jurors would vote to convict her of this bullshit?

    1. Jury nullification?

      I’m taking you in, criminal.

      1. You’re lying!

    2. Which is why they pile on enough charges or counts to make sure the person takes a plea deal.

    3. Have you looked at how constrained juries are in federal prosecutions? “Deaf, dumb, and blind,” doesn’t even begin to convey the insularity of a federal juror, especially in drug and terrorism prosecutions. “Kangaroo court” is too kind a phrase.

    4. Jurrors inflamed with love of authority figures will convict on demand. Most Americans fit into this category with a high concentration in cop families and teachers.

  4. The history of “1001” demonstrates the inevitable pernicious mission creep and abuse of ANY law passed by government, especially our Federal government. Thus, it is important to resist new laws as hard as we can in the 1st place (demanding that they be shown as “necessary” & “proper,” not just claimed as such), and to fight hard to repeal old laws (especially those that are clearly UNnecessary and/or IMproper) in the 2nd place.

    IMHO, you should be able to lie to government at least as much as it may lie to you. If you have sworn to tell the truth in an official judicial proceeding (or a reasonable counterpart of it, e.g., a congressional hearing), then perjury laws justly apply. Otherwise, it is the government’s job to determine the credibility of whatever you say or any evidence you provide. The “crime” of “obstruction of justice” should only apply, if it applies at all, to government officials. Otherwise, we must remember that our “justice” system DEPENDS on systematic “obstruction” of authority’s actions, in order to ACHIEVE justice. Authority must work as hard as it can to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, on the understanding that an unsworn accused may very well hide information or otherwise “obstruct” justice in an effort to avoid self-incrimination.

    Many would disagree with me on this, but when the government has the big guns and all the gold, the defendant needs an edge just to get justice. Better to let guilty go free than imprison falsely, and all that.

    1. Better to let guilty go free than imprison falsely, and all that.

      Especially when we’re talking about victimless “crimes”.

    2. James, I am a resistor.

      1. What a coincidence! I am an inductor, offering high impedance to Authoritative Control (AC).

  5. So if someone with the government asks you anything, anything at all, including what time you have, the smartest thing to do is refuse to answer based on your fifth amendment rights against self-incrimination.

    I guess you have to give your name, too, if asked.

    1. Does every federal employee count as a federal official?

      If a peon from some acquisition program stops me on the street, do I have to answer his questions, and truthfully? Think about how many federal employees there are….

    2. I guess you have to give your name, too, if asked.

      That could be dangerous too. What if a government agent asks your name, then writes it down spelled incorrectly. You might get charged with lying for failing to alert them that your name is not spelled in the obvious way. The only way is to walk around wearing a shirt with illuminated letters on it spelling “Fif”.

    1. Dave has provided us with so much wisdom over the years.

  6. April 15 is approaching. We’re all about to become federal felons…

    Courts are going to be backed up for quite some time….

  7. I’ve never been sure exactly how “obstruction of justice” and its ugly sister “perverting the course of justice” and now, its newborn niece “lying to federal officials” (apparently while not under oath), jive with the Fifth Amendment.

    Guilty person would have no interest in helping the government gather evidence that would be used against them. An innocent person would have the same concern.

    More importantly, I wasn’t aware that any citizen who wasn’t a sworn officer of the court or under oath in a court of law, had any obligation to assist any sworn officer in the course of their duties. The last instance of such that I can think of in which citizens could be deputized against their will was under the Fugitive Slave Law, and we know how well that turned out.

    1. An innocent person


      1. NO ONE is innocent.

  8. It’s Not the Crime; It’s the Cover-Up?Even If There Is No Crime

    The Martha Stewart offense.

  9. …whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully… conceals…by any…scheme…a material fact…shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years or…

    Theere is the unvarnished parsing of the staute. You ARE guilty.

    1. Remaining silent isn’t an option.

  10. This is why the only thing to say to any govt. goon that asks you a questions is…At this time I would like to invoke my fifth amendment rights and remain silent.

    1. You could just do Hillary’s patented “I don’t recall” spiel.

  11. Martha Stewart’s case illustrates the extreme of this edict. Notice that it doesn’t say anything about making statements to a gov’t agent or agency.

  12. The NOAA supposedly was investigating whale harassment

    derp. wha??

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