Want to pin down corrupt officials? Try 'obstruction of Congress'

With the Mueller probe investigating obstruction of justice charges in the Trump campaign, it might be interesting to see what would happen if Congress set in motion obstruction of Congress investigations.  We have heard a great deal about fruitless contempt of congress complaints, such as that against former attorney general Eric Holder.  But has there been any effort to pursue obstruction charges?

They are covered by different statutes.  Pursuing contempt of Congress has failed.  There is an informative discussion of the topic here.

Obstruction of Congress is covered by "18 U.S. Code § 1505 – Obstruction of proceedings before departments, agencies, and committees."

It is rarely pursued, but the statute is simple and to the point.

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— [emphasis added]

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.

Having corrupt FBI and DOJ officials given their own day in court does have a strong appeal.  And eight years in the federal penitentiary for the guilty would be a satisfying outcome.

The intent of such a course of action would be to get the Judicial Branch involved in the dispute between the Legislative and Executive Branches.  Since this is a new "matter" (or should that be "investigation"?), the existing management at the FBI and DOJ would be forced to recuse themselves.  There already exists a U.S. attorney available, with the authority to take matters to a grand jury: John R. Lausch, Jr.  Have House and Senate leaders file a criminal referral asking him to pursue obstruction of Congress charges before the grand jury.  If he succeeds in obtaining an indictment, bring the likes of Rod Rosenstein before the bar.  Let a judge weigh in on the dispute between to other two branches.  He would act as a referee.

There was one recent attempt at getting a conviction on such charges, which is informative.  During the BP oil spill, then-representative Ed Markey and his aides tried to get a BP executive, David Rainey, charged with obstruction of Congress.  Mr. Rainey was acquitted.  Given how reviled his employer, BP, was at the time, that is remarkable.  The charge was that Mr. Rainey had lied to Rep. Markey's subcommittee about the size of the oil spill.  One defect in the case against him was that the information was supplied to a subcommittee, whereas the statute was found to require testimony before a full or joint committee.  With all the recent televised joint committee hearings, that should not be a problem now.  A fuller report appeared on AT on May 16, 2013.

For political theater, it would be hard to top the question asked by U.S. district judge Stanwood Duval during a hearing regarding the government withholding Brady material in a related trial against another BP employee Kurt Mix (emphasis added):

"The facts make it abundantly clear that these prosecutors have violated Brady," court orders and ethics rules, Joan McPhee, an attorney for Mix, told Duval yesterday.  "They have done so by knowingly and intentionally suppressing evidence in their direct personal possession" that contradicts their obstruction charges against Mix, McPhee said.

The U.S. hasn't suppressed evidence, prosecutor Derek Cohen told Duval yesterday. ...

Duval said he would take the defense motion for sanctions "under advisement," while ordering the government to provide the defense with Federal Bureau of Investigation interviews of witnesses and 400 civil depositions.

Duval asked McPhee what remedies she would like for Mix, "other than hanging and pillorying" the prosecutors.

"Hanging and pillorying"?  Maybe eight years in the pen is enough for corrupt law enforcement officials.

With the Mueller probe investigating obstruction of justice charges in the Trump campaign, it might be interesting to see what would happen if Congress set in motion obstruction of Congress investigations.  We have heard a great deal about fruitless contempt of congress complaints, such as that against former attorney general Eric Holder.  But has there been any effort to pursue obstruction charges?

They are covered by different statutes.  Pursuing contempt of Congress has failed.  There is an informative discussion of the topic here.

Obstruction of Congress is covered by "18 U.S. Code § 1505 – Obstruction of proceedings before departments, agencies, and committees."

It is rarely pursued, but the statute is simple and to the point.

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— [emphasis added]

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.

Having corrupt FBI and DOJ officials given their own day in court does have a strong appeal.  And eight years in the federal penitentiary for the guilty would be a satisfying outcome.

The intent of such a course of action would be to get the Judicial Branch involved in the dispute between the Legislative and Executive Branches.  Since this is a new "matter" (or should that be "investigation"?), the existing management at the FBI and DOJ would be forced to recuse themselves.  There already exists a U.S. attorney available, with the authority to take matters to a grand jury: John R. Lausch, Jr.  Have House and Senate leaders file a criminal referral asking him to pursue obstruction of Congress charges before the grand jury.  If he succeeds in obtaining an indictment, bring the likes of Rod Rosenstein before the bar.  Let a judge weigh in on the dispute between to other two branches.  He would act as a referee.

There was one recent attempt at getting a conviction on such charges, which is informative.  During the BP oil spill, then-representative Ed Markey and his aides tried to get a BP executive, David Rainey, charged with obstruction of Congress.  Mr. Rainey was acquitted.  Given how reviled his employer, BP, was at the time, that is remarkable.  The charge was that Mr. Rainey had lied to Rep. Markey's subcommittee about the size of the oil spill.  One defect in the case against him was that the information was supplied to a subcommittee, whereas the statute was found to require testimony before a full or joint committee.  With all the recent televised joint committee hearings, that should not be a problem now.  A fuller report appeared on AT on May 16, 2013.

For political theater, it would be hard to top the question asked by U.S. district judge Stanwood Duval during a hearing regarding the government withholding Brady material in a related trial against another BP employee Kurt Mix (emphasis added):

"The facts make it abundantly clear that these prosecutors have violated Brady," court orders and ethics rules, Joan McPhee, an attorney for Mix, told Duval yesterday.  "They have done so by knowingly and intentionally suppressing evidence in their direct personal possession" that contradicts their obstruction charges against Mix, McPhee said.

The U.S. hasn't suppressed evidence, prosecutor Derek Cohen told Duval yesterday. ...

Duval said he would take the defense motion for sanctions "under advisement," while ordering the government to provide the defense with Federal Bureau of Investigation interviews of witnesses and 400 civil depositions.

Duval asked McPhee what remedies she would like for Mix, "other than hanging and pillorying" the prosecutors.

"Hanging and pillorying"?  Maybe eight years in the pen is enough for corrupt law enforcement officials.