House Democrats have been blocked at every turn from their lawful oversight functions as President Donald Trump’s administration directs its members to ignore subpoenas for information on a variety of topics, from the Russia investigation to the census.
On Thursday, former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner castigated Democrats for their unwillingness to use their biggest weapon in the subpoena fight: inherent contempt.
It’s incomprehensible that Congress appears unwilling to use its lawful inherent contempt powers to force the issue of administration members ignoring properly issued subpoenas. Like a football team refusing to pass the ball, forever running up the middle, gaining zero yards. https://t.co/AaWvEsJvk2
— Glenn Kirschner (@glennkirschner2) June 20, 2019
“Inherent contempt” is a power distinct from and more drastic than a vote to declare contempt of Congress, which would not lead to criminal charges unless the Department of Justice decided to pursue the matter. In inherent contempt, Congress can direct the sergeant-at-arms to bring people in for questioning, and detain them in the Capitol building until they comply with congressional directives. This power has not been used since 1935, and it is clearly intended to be a last resort.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has acknowledged this power exists, saying, “We do have a little jail down in the basement.” However, Democrats do not presently appear to have any plans to invoke it, preferring instead to litigate the matter in federal court.