By Robert A. Vella
Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee passed a contempt resolution against Attorney General William Barr for his refusal to submit the complete unredacted Mueller report to Congress by the specified deadline. Today, the resolution will be considered by the full U.S. House of Representatives. Chairman Jerry Nadler described the situation ominously:
“We’ve talked for a long time about approaching a constitutional crisis. We’re now in it… Now is the time of testing whether we can keep a republic, or whether this republic is destined to change into a different, more tyrannical form of govt. We must resist this.”
The Democrats’ strategy now appears to be heading towards the courts to resolve this crisis (see: Dems to decide Thursday whether to go to court for Trump’s taxes). Since President Trump has issued a blanket instruction of noncompliance for all House subpoenas under the guise of “executive privilege,” an egregiously brazen tactic never before attempted, Democrats are being forced to use all the tools and powers available to them even if it means open confrontation with the White House. Here’s an examination of the Contempt of Congress powers and what could happen going forward.
First, the criminal contempt statute permits a single house of Congress to certify a contempt citation to the executive branch for the criminal prosecution of an individual who has willfully refused to comply with a committee subpoena. Once the contempt citation is received, any prosecution lies within the control of the executive branch.
Here’s how this will work on a practical level: If the full House passes the contempt resolution, Pelosi will issue the citation for Barr to be held in contempt. She’ll pass that citation along to the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia or the DOJ. Either the US attorney or the Department of Justice will likely say they don’t plan to move forward with prosecuting Barr.
That would be the end of the matter, unless Democrats pass a separate resolution to authorize going to court with Barr and the Trump administration over the Mueller report, and getting the courts to decide their subpoena request and contempt citation.
Democrats are already talking about this as their next step, one they would likely take before using their own power of inherent contempt to fine or jail the attorney general.
The contempt of Congress citation the House will vote on this week is very different from inherent contempt power: Congress’s ability to arrest or jail people who don’t comply with subpoena requests.
As Garvey explained in his summary, this is how Congress used to make sure people complied with its subpoena requests if they refused, beginning in the 1850s and ending in the 1930s. Congress can do this (the Supreme Court has upheld its ability to do so), but it hasn’t since the 1930s because, well, throwing people in jail is a bit harsh:
Upon adopting a House or Senate resolution authorizing the execution of an arrest warrant by that chamber’s Sergeant-at-Arms, the individual alleged to have engaged in contemptuous conduct is taken into custody and brought before the House or Senate. A hearing or “trial” follows in which allegations are heard and defenses raised.
If judged guilty, the House or Senate may then direct that the witness be detained or imprisoned until the obstruction to the exercise of legislative power is removed.
As Garvey writes, Congress detaining these people isn’t meant to be a form of punishment so much as added incentive to produce the information more quickly.
In other news:
WASHINGTON — The Senate Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed Donald Trump Jr. to answer questions about his contention that he had only limited knowledge of a project to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, a source with direct knowledge tells NBC News.
The committee, led by Republicans, is nearing completion of its investigation into Russian election interference — a probe that is expected to result in a series of written reports.
According to the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group, which interviewed thousands of Americans four times between the winter of 2016 and this January, 85% expressed the same view of Trump each time ― a result the group called “remarkably stable given the often tumultuous nature of his time in office.”
The lion’s share of those opinions haven’t been positive: In fact, 48% of the public has consistently rated Trump unfavorably, while 36% has given him consistently favorable ratings.
Between December 2016 and January 2019, the share of Obama-Trump voters who viewed Trump favorably fell from 85 percent to 66 percent. No other voting bloc saw a statistically significant shift during that time.
The number of Americans without health insurance increased again in 2018, the second consecutive year that figure has risen after several years of declines under Obamacare, a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey shows.
An estimated 30.4 million Americans did not have health insurance in 2018, up from 29.3 million in 2017, according to the CDC’s National Health Interview Survey. That means about 1.1 million more Americans lost insurance coverage last year.
Trump administration and congressional efforts to challenge and loosen requirements of the Affordable Care Act likely played a role in some going without coverage, analysts say.
An altercation erupted into gunfire at a bar inside a mall in Florida, leaving one person dead and two others injured, authorities said early Thursday.
The shooting happened at 11:51 p.m. Wednesday at the Blue Martini bar at the Galleria mall in Fort Lauderdale, police spokeswoman Casey Liening said. Two people were taken to the hospital — one in critical condition, she said. The shooter is in custody.