Here is the latest news from the Washington Post about Michaele and Tareq Salahi, the social-climbing Northern Virginia “power couple” who revealed to the world how easy it is for just about anyone to slip into the White House and gain access to the President during a state dinner.
Initial stories about the Salahis’ caper quoted U.S. Secret Service sources to the effect that a criminal investigation was in the works, but nobody said what criminal law the couple may have violated.
Now some press accounts are trudging out 18 U.S.C. Section 1001, as a possible prosecution vehicle. I have written extensively over the years about Section 1001, the statute that criminalizes lying to government agents. Okay, I’ve actually written one article and revised it several times.
Section 1001 literally covers ”whoever, 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.”
Whether the Salahis’ conduct on the night of the state dinner fits into one of these subsections obviously depends on the particular circumstances of their case. But the Salahis have apparently made it infinitely easier for the government to prosecute them under Section 1001. The New York Times reports here that the Salahis submitted to interviews, over the course of two days, with Secret Service agents.
Unless they were immunized beforehand, a highly unlikely scenario, submitting themselves to these interviews was a really stupid thing for the Salahis to do. Lying to a government agent during an interview, even if you are not under oath, is a crime under Section 1001, as long as the lie is material. The materiality threshold under the statute is very low. Indeed, most of the abuse that takes place under Section 1001 arises from the prosecution of people who allegedly fibbed during interviews with government law-enforcement agents.
The Salahis were under no obligation to talk to the Secret Service. There was no upside to such an interview. The Secret Service is embarrassed and out for blood. It’s hard for me to believe that the Salahis enjoyed the services and advice of a criminal attorney prior to their Secret Service interview. Of course, sometimes clients do unwise things, against the advice of counsel. The Salahis crave publicity and are doing everything within their power to milk their 15 minutes of fame.
I have long complained about the breadth and misuse of Section 1001. In a government of purportedly limited and enumerated powers, the idea of criminalizing a simple lie to any federal agent who comes knocking at a citizen’s door is appalling.
On the other hand, the Salahis’ conduct on the night of the state dinner, assuming that they were uninvited, is not funny in the least. It sent a terrible signal to the world about Presidential security. Nor should the Salahis be celebrated in any way. The couple actively engaged in a planned and publicized effort to enter the White House complex. If they lied in order to do this, and if their conduct clearly falls within an appropriate criminal statute, they should be prosecuted.