The Asymmetry of Lying in America
Considerations of 18 U.S.C. Section 1001
December 31, 2018
What do General Michael Flynn, Martha Stewart, Rick Gates, Scooter Libby (recently pardoned by President Trump), George Papadopoulos and Michael Cohen all have in common? Simple, they were all convicted/pleaded guilty to Making False Statements to the Federal Government of the US under 18 U.S.C. Section 1001 (originally the False Claims Act of 1863).
Originally passed to prevent fraudulent sales to the US Government in the Civil War, it has morphed in a series of legislated updates culminating in language adopted in 1948 stating,
“Whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States knowingly and willfully falsifies, conceals or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact, or makes any false, fictitious or fraudulent statements or representations, or makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or entry …” (Source here)
Pretty clear – you lie to the Government of the US, and you are in for a trip to the legal woodshed; as the aforementioned malefactors discovered.
The breadth of Section 1001 is breathtaking – it doesn’t have to be a False Statement under oath, or even directly to a Federal Employee. (for a great treatment of the details and implications please read here) From a practical perspective, whether lying on taxes, lying to investigators (Making a False Statement) or even showing inadequate compliance, care and diligence in the production of an FDA regulated product can land a citizen in the crowbar motel. The Federal Government takes great pains to make sure that we don’t lie to it.
And this is how it should be. Our society depends on veracity and trust. The alternative is fraud driven anarchy. Which, according to the Washington Post (here) is exactly where we find the current White House – attributing 6,420 false or mis-leading claims to President Trump since inauguration.
Birds of a feather flock together
In a society where even one lie from a citizen to the Federal Government can, and frequently does, result in a felony conviction, it seems impossible to imagine that since Inauguration, our President has lied to the body public 15 times a day on average with complete legal impunity. This is not counting secondary source re-transmission and amplification through his paid staff (paid by us) and friendly media. According to the Post, this peaked at 84 false and/or mis-leading statements on October 1st of this year – it must take a lot of work to generate that volume of falsehoods.
So, we have an asymmetrical situation – our government and the individuals which comprise it can lie to us with impunity, and we cannot lie to it – not even a little bit. Hardly seems fair – and a recipe for absolute chaos.
I have a simple suggestion, let the incoming Congress – newly dominated by Democrats – make their second legislative act be an Amendment to Section 1001, applying it to all public statements by Federal Employees, elected officials and candidates for office. It would be difficult to imagine the Senate resisting the passage of an Act to bring an end to official lying in Washington – a good name would leave them no place to hide. Perhaps something like, The Act to End Protected Lying to the American People – we need to get some marketing folks working on it. Passage of the Act might well leave our President speechless – in a blessed sort of way. Can you imagine vetoing such a thing?
There would clearly need to be protection of classified information and perhaps the protection of certain verbal interrogation techniques – but nothing else. Make ‘em tell the truth – or lock them up.
This is the first in a series of blogs looking at practical solutions to the diabolical political mess in which we currently find ourselves. The solutions proposed are designed to be practical, based on existing legal and governmental structures and immediately beneficial to ordinary Americans.