The U.S. Department of Justice has quietly given a defendant-friendly makeover to the federal law that helped send Martha Stewart, Bernard Madoff and Rod Blagojevich to jail.

The law makes it a crime to “knowingly and willfully” give false statements in any matter under federal jurisdiction. Judges and commentators have attacked this “catch-all” provision, known familiarly as “Section 1001″ charges, for years as an easy trap prosecutors set for suspects when their case is otherwise weak.

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