Was DeLay's threat a crime?

Sen. Frank Lautenberg says DeLay may have committed a felony when he theatened judges in the Schiavo case.

Published April 1, 2005 5:56PM (EST)

Tom DeLay won't say what he meant when he said Thursday that "the time will come for the men responsible" for the death of Terri Schiavo "to answer for their behavior." But New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg has a pretty good idea of what DeLay meant -- and he says DeLay's threats may have amounted to a felony.

In a letter sent today to DeLay, Lautenberg said he was "stunned to read the threatening comments" DeLay had directed at "federal judges and our nation's courts of law in general."

"As you are surely aware, the family of Federal Judge Joan H. Lefkow of Illinois was recently murdered in their home," Lautenberg wrote. "And at the state level, Judge Rowland W. Barnes and others in his courtroom were gunned down in Georgia.

"Our nations judges must be concerned for their safety and security when they are asked to make difficult decisions every day. Thats why comments like those you made are not only irresponsible, but downright dangerous. To make matters worse, is it appropriate to make threats directed at specific federal and state judges? You should be aware that your comments yesterday may violate a federal criminal statute, 18 U.S.C. Sec. 115 (a)(1)(B). That law states:

"'Whoever threatens to assault. or murder, a United States judge with intent to retaliate against such judge. on account of the performance of official duties, shall be punished [by up to six years in prison].'

"Threats against specific federal judges are not only a serious crime, but also beneath a member of Congress. In my view, the true measure of democracy is how it dispenses justice. Your attempt to intimidate judges in America not only threatens our courts, but our fundamental democracy as well.

"Federal judges, as well as state and local judges in our nation, are honorable public servants who make difficult decisions every day. You owe them  and all Americans  an apology for your reckless statements."

The Hammer has not yet responded.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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