By Jan Wolfe
WASHINGTON (Reuters] – The U.S. Congress is investigating the January 6th storming that destroyed the Capitol. A U.S. committee is currently investigating contempt of Congress accusations against Steve Bannon. Bannon is a long-time advisor to Donald Trump, who defies requests for information.
Trump claimed that all the evidence and witnesses the committee seeks is covered by executive privilege. Bannon has been resisting investigators for a while, hoping to reach a settlement with Trump.
Three former Trump administration officials — Mark Meadows, Dan Scavino and Kash Patel — have received similar subpoenas, but the extent of their cooperation was unclear. House of Representatives Select Committee last week said it was engaged with Meadows, Patel.
This is how congressional investigators might pressure Trump’s allies to follow their lead:
Is it a crime to defy a CONGRESSIONAL SUPOENA?
Yes. According to 1857 law, failure to respond to a congressional subpoena to testify or produce documents is considered a misdemeanor. It can result in one to twelve months imprisonment.
The “contempt statute of Congress”, also known as this law, describes the process by which the House and Senate can refer non-compliant witnesses for criminal prosecution. The U.S. Justice Department ultimately decides whether or not to file criminal charges.
The Select Committee is required to report back on the efforts it made to force Bannon into compliance. After the Select Committee has adopted a contempt resolution, it is up to the House to vote on whether or not to refer the matter.
The big question facing Washington today is the response of President Joe Biden’s Justice Department to the contempt referral by the Democrats in Congress. In 2014, under Democratic President Barack Obama’s leadership, the Justice Department declined to bring charges against an Internal Revenue Service officer and it has continued that position under Trump.
ARE THERE OTHER OPTIONS FOR CONGRESS TO ENFORCING SUBPOENAS?
The Supreme Court stated in 1821 that Congress is “inherently authorized” to detain and arrest recalcitrant witnesses without assistance from the Justice Department.
However, it’s been nearly a century since Congress used this arrest-and detain authority. Legal experts say that the practice is not likely to return.
As Trump was undergoing impeachment proceedings, several senior Democratic lawmakers, including Representative Adam Schiff, talked about reviving the inherent contempt power.
Schiff stated in 2019 that instead of jailing witnesses who are obstinate, the House could issue daily penalties. The Democrats didn’t follow through on this proposal.
WHAT IS THE THING ABOUT CIVIL LITIGATION
Bannon, or any other witness who fails to respond to subpoenas could be brought before the Select Committee seeking to have a court order stating that they are legally obliged to turn over all information.
This was an approach that the House attempted to use during Trump’s presidency. However, it took a while for courts to decide. The House has yet to rule on whether Trump’s tax returns must be turned over by the IRS.
Trump has made public remarks suggesting that he might sue to stop the Select Committee from subpoenas being sent to his supporters. This lawsuit could provide an additional avenue for the judiciary branch to determine whether Scavino Patel, Meadows, and Patel have to comply with the requirements of the Select Committee.