House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer poured cold water Wednesday on the idea that Congress would arrest administration officials who defy subpoenas, despite the enthusiasm from key members of his party.
A committee chairman over the weekend said he wanted Congress to use its “inherent contempt” powers to arrest or fine presidential aides who stymie House investigations. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he’s already seriously considering it.
But Mr. Hoyer suggested that’s not likely.
“I don’t want to deny that we have inherent contempt authority,” he told reporters Wednesday. “But we’re somewhat limited in our ability to carry that out.”
Mr. Hoyer also said the House won’t vote on any contempt resolutions this month.
The Judiciary Committee last week voted to recommend holding Attorney General William P. Barr in contempt for defying a subpoena for the full version of the special counsel’s report and supporting evidence stemming from the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
But Mr. Hoyer said they’ll put off a full floor vote on that until they have a critical mass from other committees also feuding with the administration.
“We don’t want to do it just individually,” he said.
The Ways and Means Committee has issued a subpoena to obtain President Trump’s tax returns, while the House intelligence committee has issued its own subpoena for the full Mueller report.
Intelligence panel Chairman Adam Schiff suggested over the weekend that Congress should use its own contempt powers.
“I think if you fine someone $25,000 a day … until they comply, it gets their attention,” Mr. Schiff said on ABC’s “Meet the Press.” “We’re going to have to enforce our ability to do oversight.”
Rep. David Cicilline also supports moving to use inherent contempt powers should the Trump administration try to drag out civil contempt proceedings in the court, which could include jailing officials.
“These are unusual circumstances. I think we have a responsibility to use every tool at our disposal to compel compliance with a subpoena,” he said. “There are tons of people sitting in jail right now that willfully violated a subpoena and were taken into custody. This is a standard practice in a country that respects the rule of law.”
Legal scholars say that power, while it exists, has been long dormant and questioned whether it would be possible to revive it in today’s environment.
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