Page:Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election.pdf/379

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U.S. Department of Justice

Attorney Work Product // May Contain Material Protected Under Fed. R. Crim. P. 6(e)

c. Finally, the rule of lenity does not justify treating Section 1512(c)(2) as a prohibition on evidence impairment, as opposed to an omnibus clause. The rule of lenity is an interpretive principle that resolves ambiguity in criminal laws in favor of the less-severe construction. Cleveland v. United States, 531 U.S. 12, 25 (2000). "[A]s [the Court has] repeatedly emphasized," however, the rule of lenity applies only if, "after considering text, structure, history and purpose, there remains a grievous ambiguity or uncertainty in the statute such that the Court must simply guess as to what Congress intended." Abramski v. United States, 573 U.S. 169, 188 n.10 (2014) (internal quotation marks omitted). The rule has been cited, for example, in adopting a narrow meaning of "tangible object" in an obstruction statute when the prohibition's title, history, and list of prohibited acts indicated a focus on destruction of records. See Yates v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 1074, 1088 (2015) (plurality opinion) (interpreting "tangible object" in the phrase "record, document, or tangible object" in 18 U.S.C. § 1519 to mean an item capable of recording or preserving information). Here, as discussed above, the text, structure, and history of Section 1512(c)(2) leaves no "grievous ambiguity" about the statute's meaning. Section 1512(c)(2) defines a structurally independent general prohibition on obstruction of official proceedings.

5. Other Obstruction Statutes Might Apply to the Conduct in this Investigation

Regardless whether Section 1512(c)(2) covers all corrupt acts that obstruct, influence, or impede pending or contemplated proceedings, other statutes would apply to such conduct in pending proceedings, provided that the remaining statutory elements are satisfied. As discussed above, the omnibus clause in 18 U.S.C. § 1503(a) applies generally to obstruction of pending judicial and grand proceedings.[1] See Aguilar, 515 U.S. at 598 (noting that the clause is "far more general in scope" than preceding provisions). Section 1503(a)'s protections extend to witness tampering and to other obstructive conduct that has a nexus to pending proceedings. See Sampson, 898 F.3d at 298-303 & n.6 (collecting cases from eight circuits holding that Section 1503 covers witness-related obstructive conduct, and cabining prior circuit authority). And Section 1505 broadly criminalizes obstructive conduct aimed at pending agency and congressional proceedings.[2] See, e.g., United States v, Rainey, 757 F.3d 234, 241-247 (5th Cir. 2014).

    concluded that the statute did not clearly apply to corrupt conduct by the person himself and the "core" conduct to which Section 1505 could constitutionally be applied was one person influencing another person to violate a legal duty. Id. at 379-386. Congress later enacted a provision overturning that result by providing that "[a]s used in [S]ection 1505, the term 'corruptly' means acting with an improper purpose, personally or by influencing another, including by making a false or misleading statement, or withholding, concealing, altering, or destroying a document or other information." 18 U.S.C. § 1515(b). Other courts have declined to follow Poindexter either by limiting it to Section 1505 and the specific conduct at issue in that case, see Brenson, 104 F.3d at 1280-1281; reading it as narrowly limited to certain types of conduct, see United States v. Morrison, 98 F.3d 619, 629-630 (D.C. Cir. 1996); or by noting that it predated Arthur Andersen's interpretation of the term "corruptly," see Edwards, 869 F.3d at 501-502.

  1. Section 1503(a) provides for criminal punishment of:

    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 administration of justice.

  2. Section 1505 provides for criminal punishment of: