A request by Rep. George V. Hansen (R-Idaho) for dismissal of criminal charges against him for filing false financial statements was denied yesterday, but Hansen won an indefinite postponement of his trial so he could appeal yesterday's ruling.
U.S. District Court Judge Joyce Hens Green ruled that Hansen's trial, scheduled for Monday, should be put off because Hansen is a member of Congress and has raised fundamental issues concerning separation of the legislative and executive branches.
Quoting from a Second Circuit Court of Appeals decision, Green said such issues can be taken directly to the Court of Appeals, particularly if there are "substantial grounds for a difference of opinion." From the standpoint of efficiency, she said, all the issues raised by Hansen should be addressed by the appeals court at the same time.
Hansen's lawyer, Roy Cohn, argued June 3 that the charges against the seven-term member of Congress should be thrown out because Congress never intended to attach criminal penalties to the law that requires congressmen to disclose their finances publicly.
In filing his disclosure forms over several years, the 57-year-old Hansen left out four financial transactions, including two with Texas billionaire Nelson Bunker Hunt.
Green ruled that a government-wide criminal law prohibiting false statements made to government agencies applies to Hansen, since Congress never exempted itself from the government-wide law.
The judge brushed aside a claim by Hansen that he had been singled out for prosecution because he had criticized government agencies. She said Hansen "has not directed the court's attention to anyone similarly situated who has not been prosecuted."
An Internal Revenue Service letter cited by Cohn in an attempt to show that government agencies had threatened Hansen because he was critical of them contained no threats, she ruled.
Nor were Hansen's actions protected from prosecution by the Constitution, which provides that members of Congress may not be arrested or questioned for any speech or debate in the Senate or House, she said.
Agreeing with points made by Reid Weingarten of the Justice Department's public integrity section, Green said the clause protects members only from inquiry into their legislative acts.
"The filing of a disclosure report is not a 'legislative act,' nor does it bear upon a legislator's motivation for any legislative act," Green said.
Neither Hansen nor attorney Cohn could be reached yesterday for comment on whether they plan to file the appeal allowed by Green's ruling.