When interacting with the federal government, including the legislative branch, it is essential that all statements, whether written or verbal, be completely truthful. This is the case when providing testimony and also when submitting documents to Congress, including Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) filings, private sponsor travel certifications, and financial disclosure forms.
The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York recently secured a guilty plea in connection with lying to Congress – a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001. It is important to note that Section 1001 prohibits knowingly making a material false statement to any of the three branches of the federal government in a matter within their jurisdiction, regardless of whether those statements are under oath, which would be required for a conviction for perjury under 18 U.S.C. §§ 1621, 1623.
Although prosecutions for lying to Congress are rare, there have been several high-profile cases over the years. For example, in 2009 the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia indicted a former professional athlete for lying to Congress (he was ultimately acquitted in 2012) and in 1990, a former National Security Advisor was convicted of lying to Congress and obstructing a congressional investigation (this conviction was overturned in 1996). As incoming House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) recently stated: "[l]ying to Congress is a serious crime with serious consequences." Similarly, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) recently stated that "…you cannot lie to Congress without consequences."
Accordingly, individuals and entities should take steps to ensure all statements made to Congress are completely truthful and now is a good time to review relevant internal and external government affairs activities. Likewise, during the course of a congressional investigation, precautions must be taken to minimize the likelihood of even the appearance of not being completely truthful to Congress. Under certain circumstances, congressional witnesses should consider invoking their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, rather than risk making false statements.
Holland & Knight is well suited to handle congressional investigations and collateral matters. Our political law practice is seamlessly integrated with our congressional investigations team as well as our white collar defense and investigations team.
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