House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler is making what he calls a final “counter offer” to Attorney General William Barr’s refusal to grant immediate access to the underlying evidence in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
Nadler’s new offer comes as the Justice Department said earlier this week it would not comply with Nadler’s subpoena for the unredacted Mueller report and all of the underlying evidence and grand jury information. In a letter to Nadler, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd said Congress is not entitled to the information, adding that the request is “not legitimate oversight.”
A vote by congress to hold AG Barr in contempt will bring about another potential long drawn out court fight with the final answer to be determined by the Supreme Court. The DOJ has redacted information that the law requires it redact and has made this less redacted report available to congress. As of the last report we saw, no congressperson has viewed this report. The other question is does oversight entitle congress to have all the investigative material or the report. Much of the investigative material would be just that investigative and the Special Prosecutor deemed it to be irrelevant and of no meaning to the outcome of the case.
A contempt of congress charge would end with the end of congress. The case would still be in the court system. It would become irrelevant and the Supreme Court would probably not hear it because it no longer had any basis.
Here’s what that means, and what could happen next:
What is contempt of Congress?
It means someone has obstructed the work of either Congress or a congressional committee.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler has threatened to hold Barr in contempt of Congress — not because he skipped the hearing, but over a subpoena to obtain the unredacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.
While there are many ways someone can be in contempt of Congress, these days it usually happens when someone doesn’t comply with a congressional subpoena, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service said.
Sometimes that disobedience means refusing to appear before a committee to testify, and sometimes that means refusing to pony up requested documents.
What’s the point of holding someone in contempt of Congress?
“Contempt may be used either to coerce compliance, to punish the contemnor, and/or to remove the obstruction,” the Congressional Research Service said.
There are several ways members of Congress can do this:
1) They can tell the House or Senate sergeant at arms to detain or imprison the person in contempt until he or she honors congressional demands. This is called “inherent contempt.” But it’s super rare and hasn’t happened in modern times.
2) Congress can certify a contempt citation to the executive branch — headed by the President — to try to get the person criminally prosecuted.
3) Congress can ask the judicial branch to enforce a congressional subpoena. In other words, Congress can seek a federal court’s civil judgment saying the person is legally obligated to comply with the subpoena.
What are the challenges of holding someone in contempt of Congress?
If an official refuses to disclose information after the President says it’s protected under executive privilege, “past practice suggests that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will not pursue a prosecution for criminal contempt,” the Congressional Research Service said.
It can also be hard to get the executive branch to help. If the person in contempt is an executive branch official, efforts to punish him or her for not complying with a subpoena fail in many cases, the research center said.
So why don’t members of Congress just use “inherent contempt” and tell their sergeant at arms to arrest the offender?
“Although the contemnor can be incarcerated until he agrees to comply with the subpoena, imprisonment may not extend beyond the end of the current session of Congress,” the Congressional Research Service said.
“Moreover, inherent contempt has been described as ‘unseemly,’ cumbersome, time-consuming, and relatively ineffective, especially for a modern Congress with a heavy legislative workload that would be interrupted by a trial at the bar.”
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