Federal Lying Statute—No Oath Required
Under this statute it is a crime to knowingly and willfully make any materially false statement concerning any matter within the jurisdiction of the United States. The falsehood must be material; but this requirement is met if the statement has the “natural tendency to influence or [is] capable of influencing the decision of the decision making body” which receives the false statement. This statute has an extraordinarily wide scope. Unlike perjury, the false statement need not be given under oath. Any statement, whether made orally or in writing, can violate this law.
The statements need not be made in a formal setting. Any false statement made to any federal agent is enough. This is true even if the statement was not recorded and no transcript was made. (Often the only evidence of the false statement consists of notes made by the federal agent). It is not necessary that the government actually be deceived or misled. Unlike obstruction of justice, there is no requirement that the person making the false statements be aware of a government proceeding and intend to interfere with that proceeding. In fact, it is not even a requirement that there be any sort of judicial or other government proceeding. Any false statement made to any federal employee can be sufficient to violate this law. Martha Stewart, for example, was convicted of this crime because she made false statements to employees of the FBI and the SEC. Her lies were not made in a formal interview, and the only evidence of what she said was in the notes and recollections of the federal employees involved.
In fact, this crime can be committed even without making any false statement to a federal employee. All that is required is that the false statements have some connection to some matter within the “jurisdiction of the…United States.” Persons who lie to state agencies can be convicted of this crime if statements to that state agency might influence the functioning of federal agencies.
People have been found guilty of this crime because they lied to private contractors hired by a federal agency. In April 2004, several executives at Computer Associates, the giant software company, were charged with this crime; three of them have pleaded guilty to the charges. They did not lie to any federal agent. Instead, they were charged with making false statements to attorneys working for Computer Associates who were conducting an internal investigation of allegations of improper conduct within the business. Since this internal investigation concerned activities that were within the jurisdiction of the United States, the government asserted that lies to the business’ attorneys were crimes. Prosecutors stated that the executives knew that their statements would be turned over to the government and because of this, they needed to tell the truth.