Sinclair v. United States

Decision Date08 April 1929
Docket NumberNo. 555,555
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

George P. Hoover, of Washington, D. C., for Sinclair.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 265-279 intentionally omitted]

Page 279

Messrs. Atlee Pomerene, of Cleveland, Ohio, and Owen J. Roberts, of Philadelphia, Pa., for the United States.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 279-284 intentionally omitted]

Page 284

Mr. Justice BUTLER delivered the opinion of the Court.

Appellant was found guilty of violating R. S. § 102, U. S. C. tit. 2, § 192 (2 USCA § 192). He was sentenced to jail for three months and to pay a fine of $500. The case was taken to the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia; that court certified to this court certain questions of law upon which it desired instruction for the proper decision of the case. We directed the entire record to be sent up. Judicial Code, § 239, U. S. C. tit. 28, § 346 (28 USCA § 346).

Section 102 follows: 'Every person who having been summoned as a witness by the authority of either house of Congress, to give testimony or to produce papers upon any matter under inquiry before either house, or any

Page 285

committee of either house of Congress, willfully makes default, or who, having appeared, refuses to answer any question pertinent to the question under inquiry, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000 nor less than $100, and imprisonment in a common jail for not less than one month nor more than twelve months.'

By way of inducement the indictment set forth the circumstances leading up to the offense which in brief substance are as follows:

For many years, there had been progressive diminution of petroleum necessary for the operation of naval vessels; consequently the government was interested to conserve the supply and especially that in the public domain.

Pursuant to the Act of June 25, 1910, 36 Stat. 847, the President, by executive orders dated September 2, 1912, December 13, 1912, and April 30, 1915, ordered that certain oil and gas bearing lands in California and Wyoming be held for the exclusive use of the navy. These areas were designated Naval Petroleum Reserves 1, 2, and 3, respectively.

The Act of February 25, 1920, 41 Stat. 437, provided for the leasing of public lands containing oil and other minerals. And the Act of June 4, 1920, 41 Stat. 812, 813, directed the Secretary of the Navy of take possession of all properties in the naval reserves 'on which there are no pending claims or applications for permits or leases under the' Leasing Act of February 25, 1920 'or pending applications for United States patent under any law,' to conserve, develop, use and operate the same by contract, lease or otherwise, and to use, store, exchange or sell the oil and gas products thereof for the benefit of the United States. And it was declared that the rights of any claimants under the Leasing Act were not thereby adversely affected.

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May 31, 1921, the President promulgated an executive order purporting to give the administration and conservation of all oil and gas bearing lands in the naval reserves to the Secretary of the Interior subject to supervision by the President.

April 7, 1922, the Secretary of the Navy and the Secretary of the Interior made a lease of lands in Reserve No. 3 to the Mammoth Oil Company. This was done by the procurement of the appellant action as the president of the company. The lease purported to grant to the company the right to take oil and gas and contained a provision selling royalty oils to the company. And February 9, 1923, a supplemental contract was made by which the company agreed to furnish storage facilities for the Navy. Mammoth Oil Co. v. United States, 275 U. S. 13, 48 S. Ct. 1, 72 L. Ed. 137.

April 25, 1922, the same Secretaries made a contract with the Pan-American Petroleum & Transport Company for the sale to it of royalty oils from Reserves 1 and 2. December 11, 1922, another contract was made by them. The purpose of these agreements was to arrange that the company furnish storage facilities for the Navy in exchange for royalty oils to be received by the United States under leases then in force and thereafter to be made. December 11, 1922, the same Secretaries made a lease to the Pan American Petroleum Company purporting to grant to it the right to take oil and gas from Reserve No. 1. Pan American Co. v. United States, 273 U. S. 456, 47 S. Ct. 416, 71 L. Ed. 734.

The lease to the Mammoth Company and the contract with the Transport Company came to the attention of the Senate, and it was charged that there had been fraud and bad faith in the making of them. Questions arose as to their legality, the future policy of the government as to them and similar leases and contracts, and as to the necessity and desirability of legislation upon the subject.

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April 29, 1922, the Senate adopted Resolution 282, calling upon the Secretary of the Interior for information and containing the following: 'That the committee on public lands and surveys be authorized to investigate this entire subject of leases upon naval oil reserves with particular reference to the protection of the rights and equities of the government of the United States and the preservation of its natural resources, and to report its findings and recommendations to the Senate.'

June 5, 1922, Resolution 282 was amended by Resolution 294 by adding a provision that the committee 'is hereby authorized * * * to require the attendance of witnesses by subpoenas or otherwise; to require the production of books, papers and documents. * * * The chairman of the committee, or any member thereof, may administer oaths to witnesses and sign subpoenas for witnesses.'

February 5, 1923, the Senate passed Resolution 434, which continued in force and effect until the end of the Sixty-Eighth Congress and until otherwise ordered, 'Senate Resolution 282 agreed to April 21(29), 1922, and Senate Resolution 292, agreed to May 15, 1922.' (The government suggests that, instead of the resolution last mentioned, there was meant Resolution 294 adopted June 5, 1922.)

February 7, 1924, the Senate passed Resolution 147, directing in substance the same as it had theretofore done by the two resolutions first above mentioned and also that the committee 'ascertain what, if any, other or additional legislation may be advisable and to report its findings and recommendations to the Senate.'

The committee proceeded to exercise the authority conferred upon it and for that purpose held hearings at which witnesses were examined and documents produced. Appellant was summoned, appeared and was sworn December 4, 1923.

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And the indictment charges that, on March 22, 1924, the matters referred to in these resolutions being under inquiry, and appellant having been summoned to give testimony and having been sworn as aforesaid did appear before the committee as a witness. The first count alleges that Senator Walsh, a member of the committee, propounded to him a question which appellant knew was pertinent to the matters under inquiry: 'Mr. Sinclair, I desire to interrogate you about a matter concerning which the committee had no knowledge or reliable information at any time when you had heretofore appeared before the committee and with respect to which you must then have had knowledge. I refer to the testimony given by Mr. Bonfils concerning a contract that you made with him touching the Teapot Dome. I wish you would tell us about that.'

And, to explain that question, the indictment states: 'Said Hon. Thomas J. Walsh thereby meaning and intending, as said Harry F. Sinclair then and there well knew and understood, to elicit from him the said Harry F. Sinclair, facts, which then were within his knowledge, touching the execution and delivery of a certain contract bearing date September 25, 1922, made and executed by the between said Mammoth Oil Company, one F. G. Bonfils and one John Leo Stack, which was executed on behalf of said Mammoth Oil Company by said Harry F. Sinclair as President of said Mammoth Oil Company, and which, among other things, provided for the payment, by said Mammoth Oil Company, unto said F. G. Bonfils and said John Leo Stack, of the sum of $250,000, on or before October 15, 1922, in consideration of the release, by said F. G. Bonfils and said John Leo Stack, of rights to lands described in said Executive Order of April 30, 1915, and embraced in the aforesaid lease of April 7, 1922.' And that count concluded: 'And that said Harry

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F. Sinclair then and there unlawfully did refuse to answer said question. * * *'

Senate Joint Resolution 54 was approved February 8, 1924. 43 Stat. 5. It recited that the leases and contracts above mentioned were executed under circumstances indicating fraud and corruption, that they were without authority, contrary to law, and in defiance of the settled policy of the government, and the resolution declared that the lands embraced therein should be recovered and held for the purposes to which they were dedicated. It directed the President to cause suit to be instituted for the cancellation of the leases and contracts, to prosecute such other actions or proceedings, civil and criminal, as were warranted by the facts, and authorized the appointment of special counsel to have charge of the matter.

Prior to March 22, 1924, appellant, at the request of the committee, appeared five times before it, and was sworn as alleged. March 19, 1924, a United States marshal at New York served upon him a telegram, which was in form a subpoena signed by the chairman of the committee, requiring him to appear as a witness and he did appear on March 22. Before any questions were put, he submitted a statement.

He disclaimed any purpose to invoke protection against...

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