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Obstruction of Justice - Obstruction Of Agency Proceedings And Congressional Inquiries

section poindexter corrupt efforts

Addressing the gap left by section 1503's limitation to legal proceedings, section 1505 targets "corrupt" efforts to obstruct, impede, or influence 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 inquiry" by a congressional body. Here, again, the definition of "corrupt" is critical, but in this instance, the term has been found unconstitutionally vague, at least when applied to lying to Congress. That was the ruling in 1991, by the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in United States v. Poindexter (an appeal arising out of the Iran-Contra affair). There, the court held section 1505's reference to "corrupt" to be "too vague to provide constitutionally adequate notice that it prohibits lying to Congress." Congress responded to Poindexter in 1996 by adding section 1515(b), which provides that, as used in section 1505, "'corruptly' means acting with an improper purpose, personally or by influencing another, including making a false or misleading statement, or withholding, concealing, altering, or destroying a document or other information." Extending to any "improper purpose," this definition remains quite broad, but has so far survived constitutional challenge. (Efforts to use the reasoning in Poindexter to challenge section 1503's omnibus clause have so far failed.)

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