Three ways Deception can get you into Trouble
When news broke that a former Trump campaign advisor pled guilty to making false statements to the FBI, questions began to swirl as the controversy regarding Russian collusion heated up. Unsealed court records indicate that George Papadopoulos was not up front with the FBI about connections with Russian contacts he’d had during the presidential campaign. Regardless of the implications in the political world, what consequences could Papadopoulos face for his misleading assertions during FBI interviews?
Making False Statements to the FBI
Federal law is quite strict when it comes to falsifying, concealing, or in any way scheming in an attempt to distort the facts when being questioned by the FBI. The laws regarding false statements are written fairly broadly and apply to virtually any interaction with a government agent wherein information is skewed, hidden, or even simply omitted, whether or not a person has been sworn to tell the truth. Sentencing can include fines and up to 5 years of incarceration. When terrorism is involved, the prison term can be for as long as 8 years.
Papadopoulos was charged only with making false statements, not of perjury or obstruction of justice. What differentiates his crime from the others?
Perjury is much more narrowly defined, and can only be committed when a person knowingly lies about relevant facts in a case while under oath. Overtly false statements, not merely omissions of fact, are perjury. The federal offense of perjury can include probation and imprisonment for up to 4 years. Aggravated perjury (lies under oath that lead to someone else’s conviction and execution) could result in greater penalties.
Obstruction of Justice
When a person knowingly interferes with the progress of an ongoing investigation, it is called obstruction of justice. This may include actions such as intimidating witnesses or destroying evidence. Because lying under oath can significantly hamper the progress on a case, it is sometimes considered obstruction of justice, as well. The Supreme Court has ruled that the act must have the natural and probable effect of thwarting a case in order to be considered obstruction. The penalty for obstruction of justice can be the greater of 5 years in prison, or the maximum penalty that could be given in any trial in which the obstruction was a factor. That means that if the obstruction occurred in conjunction with, say, a drug trafficking case where the maximum penalty was 20 years, the penalty for obstruction could be 20 years as well.
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