Because he posed a threat to Dick Durbin’s US Senate election in 1996, Illinois Republican Al Salvi was threatened by a United States government official. That official was Lois Lerner, and she was using her position as a representative of the Federal Election Commission. In the course of her FEC inquisition of Salvi for alleged election law violations, Lerner made a statement that amounts to extortion.
Following the Chicago way, Durbin made a series of FEC complaints against Salvi, and Lerner took the point in handling his case. According to Salvi, at one point Lerner, made an offer to him that appears to have constituted the crime of extortion under US Code Title 18 section 872. She said, “Promise me you will never run for office again, and we’ll drop this case.”
Salvi rejected the extortionist offer and was punished with a series of phony charges stemming from Durbin’s complaint. The FEC charged Salvi with using un-identifiable funds, failing to report campaign debts, and missing a filing deadline, among other things.
Salvi refused to give in and fought the charges. In 2000, after several rounds of court appearances, he was cleared of all of Durbin’s fake charges and went on with his life. When he recently saw Lois Lerner taking the 5th Amendment in a Congressional hearing, his memory was jogged and he realized, “That’s the woman!”
While Lerner is protected from federal prosecution by the statute of limitations, what she did seems to be a textbook example of extortion.
The specific statute Lerner violated makes it a crime to threaten to hurt someone unless they either do something or agree not to do something the victim is legally entitled to do – such as run for office.
The US Code says that extortionists acting under color of federal authority shall be fined or imprisoned not more than three years, or both; but if the amount so extorted or demanded does not exceed $1,000, he shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.