Many Cabinet-level and senior officials in a number of administrations have confronted lawmakers' wrath over the decades.

You are watching: Can congress hold someone in contempt


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House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler presides over a mark-up hear in the Rayburn home Office structure on may 8, 2019.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
House Judiciary Committee democrats voted Wednesday to organize Attorney general William Barr in contempt of Congress, citing a refusal by the Trump administration — which has asserted executive privilege — to carry out lawmakers v an unredacted copy of one-of-a-kind counsel Robert Mueller"s report.

But what go holding who in contempt of congress mean? right here are the answers to five an essential questions around the concept.

1. What is contempt the Congress?

Congress deserve to vote to hold a human "in contempt" if that person refuses to testify, won"t carry out information requested by the home or the Senate, or obstructs an inquiry by a conference committee.


Congress" power to host someone in contempt might be used to "coerce compliance" through its demands, punish a human or eliminate an obstruction come the inquiry or proceeding, according to the Congressional research study Service.

The government is not particularly laid the end in the Constitution, yet it is taken into consideration an implied power of Congress, according to the CRS. Congress deserve to pursue a criminal or a civil contempt citation.

Under a rarely used doctrine recognized as "inherent contempt," the home or the Senate can send members the its security pressure — the sergeant at arms — to arrest and also detain the witness. This power, however, hasn"t been used since 1934, once William MacCracken, a former member of chairman Herbert Hoover"s administration, to be arrested and also held under a warrant after he decreased to appear before the Senate. Follow to The Washington Post, the Senate sergeant at arms did not have a place to organize MacCracken, who was later on put up in ~ a surrounding hotel.


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2. Who has actually been hosted in contempt?

When Republicans regulated the home in 2012, lock voted to hold President Barack Obama"s lawyer general, Eric Holder, in contempt end the administration"s refuse to rotate over records related come the Fast and Furious gun-walking scandal.


The Obama justice Department would certainly not prosecute Holder, bring about a protracted legit battle; the wasn"t until January 2016 the a commonwealth judge ordered the Justice department to create some documents. The Obama administration appealed, and the situation lingered till President Donald Trump take it office. Whilethe trumped Justice department agreed to relax some records in march 2018, the lawsuit was ultimately resolved just Wednesday after both sides ended a conflict over several of the judge"s decisions.

In 2008, a Democrat-controlled home voted to host President George W. Bush"s previous White home counsel Harriet Miers and also chief of employee Josh Bolten in contempt ~ the White House, citing executive privilege, command them no to comply through subpoenas for records related to a conference investigation right into the firing of several U.S. Attorneys.

The speaker of the home asked the U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C., to go after the matter, yet the commonwealth prosecutor declined, citing a justice Department plan of not prosecuting a White residence official because that criminal contempt of conference if that official had invoked executive privilege in ~ the behest the the president.

Congress sued, and a ar court referee sided v lawmakers. The Bush management appealed, and also while the situation was quiet pending, Obama took office. The brand-new administration then settled the case, approving Congress access to several of the papers it search and permitting sworn testimony indigenous Miers. By then, a year and a fifty percent after congress issued the subpoena, the oversight issue largely was moot.


Other Cabinet-level or an elderly executive branch officials cited for contempt in recent history include Secretary that State Henry Kissinger and also Commerce Secretary Rogers C. B. Morton in 1975; Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph A. Califano Jr. In 1978; energy Secretary Charles Duncan in 1980; power Secretary James B. Edwards in 1981; inner Secretary James Watt in 1982; anne Gorsuch Burford (Supreme Court justice Neil Gorsuch"s mother) and also Attorney basic William French smith in 1983; White house Counsel man M. Quinn in 1996; and Attorney general Janet Reno in 1998.

3. Exactly how does the happen?

After members of the house Judiciary Committee concluded your markup discussion over the resolution to organize Barr in contempt Wednesday, the panel voted ~ above the resolution. The resolution now can go come a poll in the full House.

Only a simple bulk is necessary to development the contempt resolution, and only one chamber needs to approve the measure for a human to it is in prosecuted for contempt.


With a criminal contempt citation, the home would express the citation to the U.S. Attorney"s Office because that the ar of Columbia, which can seek one indictment from a cool jury. All commonwealth prosecutors, including all 90-plus U.S. Attorneys, job-related for Barr, however, and would it is in under no duty to pursue a contempt charge.

With a civil contempt citation, Congress would certainly basically sue Barr in district court.

4. What comes next?

Now the the Judiciary Committee has actually approved the contempt resolution, the complete House could vote on the measure, v the time of that up to house Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Speak at a Washington write-up event Wednesday, Pelosi said that the attorney basic "should be organized in contempt," other she had decreased to sweet in on as freshly as Tuesday.

Although a criminal contempt citation can be referred to the U.S. Attorney because that the district of Columbia, commonwealth prosecutors would certainly be unlikely to go after charges against their boss. The contempt resolution is i can not qualify to result in any kind of substantive activity against Barr offered the recent history of how contempt charges have actually played the end in the court system.


Contempt of conference is technically a federal misdemeanor, and also if prosecuted, Barr would technically challenge up come a $100,000 fine and also a one-year sentence in commonwealth prison, although both outcomes are highly unlikely.

Congress likewise has the choice to pursue a civil contempt citation from a judge. The Judiciary Committee, for example, could sue Barr in district court, detailed that a simple majority of the complete House voted come authorize such an action.

"If the separation, personal, instance still refuses to comply, he might be do the efforts by the court in review proceedings because that contempt that court, through sanctions being imposed to coerce their compliance," the conference Research service said in a 2017 paper.


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5. How did we gain here?

On April 19, committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., authorize a subpoena for the unredacted Mueller report and key underlying evidence, offering the Justice room a might 1 deadline to comply. The very same day, Nadler and other top Democrats rubbish a minimal offer from Barr to allow 12 members of conference to view a less-redacted version of the report in person however prohibit castle from mentioning it with other members that Congress.


On may 1, Barr sent a letter come Nadler explaining his factors for no submitting the report. The attorney basic was booked to show up before the residence Judiciary Committee the following day however declined to appear.


On might 3, Nadler created Barr questioning him to make a good faith effort to comply with the subpoena through Monday. The deadline was missed, and also the same day, the committee announced a markup that a contempt citation because that the lawyer general. Later on that day, the Justice department proposed a meeting v the committee Wednesday to negotiate "an agree accommodation" on access to the complete report.

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But on Wednesday, Trump check executive privilege end the report, and the committee initiated contempt proceedings against Barr. The justice Department had actually told lawgiver Tuesday ahead of the session the it would recommend that Trump assert executive, management privilege to the material.