Administrations officials working for President Donald Trump are refusing or stalling to comply with subpoena orders from Democratic committee chairs in the House of Representatives — a move that could result in jail time for doing so, according to one lawmaker.
Speaking on MSNBC’s “Hardball” program with host Chris Matthews, Rep. David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island) asserted that Congress had an “inherent right” to enforce its own subpoena orders against members of the White House, being a co-equal branch of government.
Matthews noted that at least three Congressional committees were facing “stonewalling” tactics as part of a delay tactic by the Trump administration.
Cicilline, responding to Matthews’ question on whether lawmakers are ready to enforce the subpoena orders, said they absolutely must force the administration to comply using whatever means they had at their disposal.
“Congress cannot allow the president to prevent us from conducting our oversight,” Cicilline said, per reporting from Raw Story.
"Congress has the responsibility and I would say the obligation to hold individuals in contempt who do not comply with a lawful subpoena, who do not produce documents, and we ought to be prepared to imprison them." -Rep. Cicilline just now on @hardball pic.twitter.com/pLGizr9Jay
— Cicilline Press Office (@RepCicilline) April 26, 2019
He acknowledged there is a multitude of ways for Congress to respond to the stonewalling tactics. It can refer a person to the Department of Justice, for example, a move that won’t likely do much for the legislative branch given Attorney General William Barr’s willingness to stand behind the president’s controversial actions.
Congress can also appeal to the judiciary and ask a court to intervene, a process that can take years to complete. But a third option exists which allows Congress to take matters into its own hands: the House can direct the Sergeant at Arms to arrest individuals who fail to comply with the orders.
“Since 1821, the Supreme Court has recognized the inherent right of Congress to hold individuals in contempt and to imprison them,” Cicilline said.
Such methods are rarely employed. Reporting from Axios, for example, notes that Congress hasn’t tried to imprison a person who refused to follow a subpoena order in almost a century. And when such threats are made, it typically results in a compromise between the two parties — oftentimes an agreement to testify behind closed doors, for example.
Regardless, Cicilline suggested that acquiescing to the Trump administration’s stall tactics was not an acceptable choice.
“Congress has the responsibility — and I would say the obligation — to hold individuals in contempt who do not comply with a lawful subpoena, who do not produce documents,” he said, “and we ought to be prepared to imprison them because we have that inherent right.”