Criminal Charges for the White House State Dinner Crashers?

CBS/AP reports:

America’s most successful party crashers, Michaele and Tareq Salahi, who stormed the gates of a White House state dinner and somehow managed to get in, may soon be facing criminal charges, according to the Secret Service.

Secret Service spokesman Jim Mackin says the agency is moving closer to beginning a criminal investigation. He says that’s one reason the Secret Service hasn’t yet explained what happened when Michaele and Tareq Salahi arrived at the security checkpoint Tuesday for the dinner honoring Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

One likely charge is 18 U.S.C. § 1036, “Entry by false pretenses to any real property, vessel, or aircraft of the United States or secure area of any airport or seaport,” which prohibits:

Whoever, by any fraud or false pretense, enters or attempts to enter–
(1) any real property belonging in whole or in part to, or leased by, the United States;
(2) any vessel or aircraft belonging in whole or in part to, or leased by, the United States;
(3) any secure or restricted area of any seaport, designated as secure in an approved security plan, as required under section 70103 of title 46, United States Code, and the rules and regulations promulgated under that section; or
(4) any secure area of any airport,
shall be punished as provided in subsection (b) of this section.

(b) The punishment for an offense under subsection (a) of this section is–
(1) a fine under this title or imprisonment for not more than 10 years, or both, if the offense is committed with the intent to commit a felony; or
(2) a fine under this title or imprisonment for not more than 6 months, or both, in any other case.

(c) As used in this section–
(1) the term “secure area” means an area access to which is restricted by the airport authority, captain of the seaport, or a public agency; and
(2) the term “airport” has the meaning given such term in section 47102 of title 49.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see § 1036 trespass charges paired with charges relating to misrepresentation the couple presumably had to engage in to sneak in. For example, 18 U.S.C. § 1001 is a very broad statute that (more or less) prohibits lying to the federal government:

Whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully–
(1) falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact;
(2) makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or
(3) makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry;shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years . . .

The government might try to pair these two theories to trigger the § 1036 felony. For example, they could argue that the initial fraudulent trespass on to government property in violation of § 1036 occurred with the intent of then lying to the government to get access to Obama in violation of § 1001, triggering the felony provisions of § 1036(b)(1) in addition to the felony provisions of § 1001.

It’s not totally clear how it would play out, as that could depend on the facts of the misrepresentations that the couple had to make to gain access to the dinner. But I think one thing is clear: Crashing a White House state dinner, and then bragging about it on Facebook, is really really dumb.

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