Criminal implications of the US Attorney firings
By Lee Russ
Wednesday, March 21, 2007 at 04:10 PM
The Republicans are trying to defuse the furor over the US Attorney firings via one tactic they used over and over again in the Valerie Plame incident: hey, you may not like it but it wasn't a crime. Repeat "It wasn't a crime" 100 times in a row, as fast as you can, and you'll get an idea of the audience effect they're after.But hold the hell on. Assuming that one or more of the fired USAs was let go in an attempt to influence investigations and/or prosecutions in a way that would help Republicans, are we sure that's not a full blown crime?
Adam Cohen's NY Times column on Monday, titled "It Wasn't Just a Bad Idea. It May Have Been Against the Law," got me wondering. Cohen cites two criminal provision of the United States Code that he thinks might have been violated: Title 18, sections 1505 and 1512(c). I spent some time poking through Title 18 and came up with a few others in addition to those.
Read through the following (the legalese is unavoidable; you have to see the original language), while keeping in mind that: (1) a US Attorney is almost undoubtedly considered an officer of the court; (2) threatening a US Attorney, directly or indirectly, with career consequences if they don't do what you want can easily be considered a form of coercion or, pushing it a bit, even bribery; (3) US Attorneys generally hold an office that is provided for by federal law; and (4) if the threats and firings were motivated by a desire to affect criminal investigations, either to ensure them or to prevent them, justice was pretty clearly obstructed or, at the least, there was an attempt to obstrut it.
1. 18 USC 372. Conspiracy to impede or injure officer
If two or more persons in any State, Territory, Possession, or District conspire to prevent, by force, intimidation, or threat, any person from accepting or holding any office, trust, or place of confidence under the United States, or from discharging any duties thereof, or to induce by like means any officer of the United States to leave the place, where his duties as an officer are required to be performed, or to injure him in his person or property on account of his lawful discharge of the duties of his office, or while engaged in the lawful discharge thereof, or to injure his property so as to molest, interrupt, hinder, or impede him in the discharge of his official duties, each of such persons shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six years, or both.
2. 18 USC 601. Deprivation of employment or other benefit for political contribution
(a) Whoever, directly or indirectly, knowingly causes or attempts to cause any person to make a contribution of a thing of value (including services) for the benefit of any candidate or any political party, by means of the denial or deprivation, or the threat of the denial or deprivation, of-- (1) any employment, position, or work in or for any agency or other entity of the Government of the United States, a State, or a political subdivision of a State, or any compensation or benefit of such employment, position, or work; or (2) any payment or benefit of a program of the United States, a State, or a political subdivision of a State; if such employment, position, work, compensation, payment, or benefit is provided for or made possible in whole or in part by an Act of Congress, shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned not more than one year, or both. (b) As used in this section-- (1) the term "candidate" means an individual who seeks nomination for election, or election, to Federal, State, or local office, whether or not such individual is elected, and, for purposes of this paragraph, an individual shall be deemed to seek nomination for election, or election, to Federal, State, or local office, if he has (A) taken the action necessary under the law of a State to qualify himself for nomination for election, or election, or (B) received contributions or made expenditures, or has given his consent for any other person to receive contributions or make expenditures, with a view to bringing about his nomination for election, or election, to such office; (2) the term "election" means (A) a general, special primary, or runoff election, (B) a convention or caucus of a political party held to nominate a candidate, (C) a primary election held for the selection of delegates to a nominating convention of a political party, (D) a primary election held for the expression of a preference for the nomination of persons for election to the office of President, and (E) the election of delegates to a constitutional convention for proposing amendments to the Constitution of the United States or of any State; and (3) the term "State" means a State of the United States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, or any territory or possession of the United States
3. 18 USC 610. Coercion of political activity
It shall be unlawful for any person to intimidate, threaten, command, or coerce, or attempt to intimidate, threaten, command, or coerce, any employee of the Federal Government as defined in section 7322 (1) of title 5, United States Code, to engage in, or not to engage in, any political activity, including, but not limited to, voting or refusing to vote for any candidate or measure in any election, making or refusing to make any political contribution, or working or refusing to work on behalf of any candidate. Any person who violates this section shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.
4. 18 USC 1503. Influencing or injuring officer or juror generally
(a) Whoever corruptly, or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication, endeavors to influence, intimidate, or impede any grand or petit juror, or officer in or of any court of the United States, or officer who may be serving at any examination or other proceeding before any United States magistrate judge or other committing magistrate, in the discharge of his duty, or injures any such grand or petit juror in his person or property on account of any verdict or indictment assented to by him, or on account of his being or having been such juror, or injures any such officer, magistrate judge, or other committing magistrate in his person or property on account of the performance of his official duties, or corruptly or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication, influences, obstructs, or impedes, or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice, shall be punished as provided in subsection (b).
(b) The punishment for an offense under this section is-- (1) in the case of a killing, the punishment provided in sections 1111 and 1112; (2) in the case of an attempted killing, or a case in which the offense was committed against a petit juror and in which a class A or B felony was charged, imprisonment for not more than 20 years, a fine under this title, or both; and (3) in any other case, imprisonment for not more than 10 years, a fine under this title, or both.
5. 18 USC 1505. Obstruction of proceedings before departments, agencies, and committees
.... Whoever corruptly, or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication influences, obstructs, or impedes or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law under which any pending proceeding is being had before any department or agency of the United States, or the due and proper exercise of the power of inquiry under which any inquiry or investigation is being had by either House, or any committee of either House or any joint committee of the Congress-- Shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years or, if the offense involves international or domestic terrorism (as defined in section 2331), imprisoned not more than 8 years, or both.
6. 18 USC 1512. Obstruction of proceedings before departments, agencies, and committees
... (c) Whoever corruptly-- (1) alters, destroys, mutilates, or conceals a record, document, or other object, or attempts to do so, with the intent to impair the object's integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding; or (2) otherwise obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.
(d) Whoever intentionally harasses another person and thereby hinders, delays, prevents, or dissuades any person from-- (1) attending or testifying in an official proceeding; (2) reporting to a law enforcement officer or judge of the United States the commission or possible commission of a Federal offense or a violation of conditions of probation supervised release, parole, or release pending judicial proceedings; (3) arresting or seeking the arrest of another person in connection with a Federal offense; or (4) causing a criminal prosecution, or a parole or probation revocation proceeding, to be sought or instituted, or assisting in such prosecution or proceeding; or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.
Would prosecutions be difficult, with uncertain outcomes? Sure. The same is true for many criminal prosecutions, especially ones under the RICO statute. Difficulty and uncertainty do not mean that the acts were not criminal, only that it will be difficult to prove criminality.