Can The U.S. House Jail Those Who Refuse To Comply With Subpoenas?

Threats of jail time for those non-compliant of US House of Representatives subpoenas started Thursday evening after  Rep. Gerry Connolly stated on CNN that the House will take them to court over impeding their Oversight Committee investigation. “We will go to the max to enforce the constitutional role of the legislative branch of government,” declared the democratic representative for Virginia. This statement was in regards to Stephen Miller, senior white House advisor on immigration; Carl Kline, former security official; and John Gore, Justice department Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, all refusing House subpoenas to testify.  House Oversight Committee member Rep. Ro Khanna also told CNN that “Congress’ power is at its peak when there are credible allegations of executive misconduct, such as in these cases. I have no doubt we will prevail in court.”

Now the other side of the aisle in US politics is using “Lock ’em up,” as a solution. This may be a lot more difficult than Connolly expects as the powers of Congress’ subpoenas are not as powerful as they used to be. In 1934 Mr. MacCracken refused a Senate subpoena and was held in contempt then taken into custody by the Sergeant in Arm; an action upheld by the supreme court Justice Brandeis.  It will not be easier this time around as those subpoenaed by Congress are members of the Justice Department the House relies on to prosecute those in contempt of court. Thus the Justice Department, as they have done in the past, can simply decline to pursue the case leaving the House with one other option: a possible civil litigation.

In 2007, after President George W. Bush claimed “executive privilege” to prevent a former White House counsel Harriet Miers from testifying, Congress tried to hold her in contempt, but the Justice Department refused to prosecute. This led Congress into a two-year civil lawsuit with the US District Court for the District of Columbia.

Whereas three civil cases of this magnitude would definitely hinder the Oversight Committee investigation and these threats not being pursued by the Justice Department could lead to more Trump officials refusing to comply with future subpoenas, as there is no present consequences. We must wait and see if the Committee on Oversight and Reform or the House as a whole makes any substantial moves towards holding these three men in contempt, as well as the Justice Department’s actions or lack thereof.


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