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DOJ won't investigate fake government documents used by CBS

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Feds Refuse to Pursue Forger

DOJ won’t investigate fake government documents used by CBS

As Dan Rather stepped down as anchor of the “CBS Evening News” last Wednesday, the person who deceived him with fake memos on President Bush’s National Guard service remained at large, spared from even the threat of a federal or state investigation.

Both federal and state felony statutes exist that give law enforcement authorities the right to pursue the culprit. But neither the U.S. Department of Justice nor prosecutors in Texas have taken up the cause.

A spokesman at the Justice Department told HUMAN EVENTS that federal officials never pursued the matter last September after the “60 Minutes Wednesday” segment aired. When asked whether the department might take up the case now, spokesman Kevin Madden had a straightforward response: “No.”

The same is true at the Texas Department of Public Safety. Spokeswoman Tela Mange told HUMAN EVENTS that no investigation was started last fall and no Texas prosecutor has approached the department about launching a probe since then.

“I would doubt there would ever be a criminal investigation that was done by DPS on that,” Mange said. “It doesn’t mean that a local police department or a branch of the federal government couldn’t do it.”

Forgery Is a Felony

Forging federal documents and transmitting them is a federal crime, according to Chapter 63, Section 1343, of the U.S. Code. It states: “Whoever, having devised…any scheme or artifice to defraud…transmits or causes to be transmitted by means of wire, radio or television communication in interstate or foreign commerce, any writings…for the purpose of executing such scheme or artifice, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both….”

The documents–used in a Sept. 8, 2004, Bush-bashing segment on “60 Minutes Wednesday”–were faxed to CBS from a Kinko’s in Abilene, Tex., making both the U.S. Code and Texas Penal Code relevant to a forgery investigation.

Another section of the U.S. Code, Chapter 18, Section 1001, states: “[W]hoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully…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 or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.”

Then there is the Texas Penal Code, which includes a section on tampering with government records. Section 37.10 of the code states that it is a felony if a person “knowingly makes a false entry in, or false alteration of, a governmental record; [and] makes, presents, or uses any record, document, or thing with knowledge of its falsity and with intent that it be taken as a genuine governmental record.”

James Eidson, the prosecutor in Taylor County, Tex., in which Abilene is located, said last September he wouldn’t prosecute unless an investigative agency turned the case over to his office. “I know some documents were faxed from Abilene that were purported to be fraudulent, and that’s all I know,” Eidson said at the time. “We’re not an investigative agency. It would have to be turned over to us by some other agency.” He didn’t reply to calls from HUMAN EVENTS last week.

But with the state Department of Public Safety–the agency responsible for investigating–putting the onus on county prosecutors, nothing happened.

The same is true at the U.S. Department of Justice, which declined to risk a politically sensitive investigation last fall in the heat of the presidential election. Because Bush was the subject of the CBS report, both he and then-Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft would have likely been subjected to scathing attacks from Democrats if they had pursued an inquiry.

That didn’t stop congressional Republicans from demanding action at the time. Thirty-nine House Republicans signed a letter to CBS asking the network to disclose the source of the documents. But now, six months after the “60 Minutes Wednesday” segment aired, not even Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R.-Mo.), who organized the letter, would weigh in on the lack of a federal investigation, when asked by HUMAN EVENTS.

Rep. Christopher Cox (R.-Calif.) told HUMAN EVENTS: “This isn’t the final chapter. That won’t be written until we know where the apparently forged government documents came from. Every citizen has a stake in the answer to that question, because if it is true the documents are fake, a serious crime was committed. It’s high time we got to the bottom of this. Where are the investigative journalists when we need them?”

To this day, no one has figured out where the documents originated. Bill Burkett, the former National Guardsman who gave the memos to CBS, said they were passed to him through an unidentified man at a Houston livestock show who he believed was delivering them to him on behalf of a woman named Lucy Ramirez. Burkett told CBS last September he spoke to this woman on the phone but never met her. CBS’s own investigation of the botched segment never discovered the ultimate source of the documents.

Although the memos included some similarities to other National Guard documents from the early 1970s, too many discrepancies existed, particularly with the typeface and military lingo used at the time. The fallout from the segment led to the ousting of four CBS employees. Rather, meanwhile, announced his resignation before CBS executives handed down their edict in January.

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Written By

Mr. Bluey, a contributing editor to Human Events, is director of the Center for Media & Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation. He maintains a blog at RobertBluey.com.

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