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Former Washington Journalist
Contributor on The Bipartisan Press
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Donald Trump and members his administration continue to ignore subpoenas, flout federal law by refusing to turn over presidential tax returns, decline to appear to testify as ordered, and just appear to go all out to ignore any and all attempts at oversight by the US House of Representatives.
Meanwhile, the House Democratic majority has begun to rachet up consequences for this defiance, as the House Judiciary Committee voted to hold Attorney General William “Bill” Barr in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over to Congress–as subpoenaed–a full, unredacted copy of the Mueller Report and its underlying evidence.
And enforcing Congress’ legal and historical ability to successfully complete its oversight role is critical in a constitutional government set up with checks and balances, according to Democrats and their allies.
“This is a lawless administration. It is denying the American people the information they need by defying all subpoenas. It’s the first administration you’ve ever seen where they say we’ll deny all subpoenas from Congress, whether it’s on the Mueller investigation or on security clearances or in anything else,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). “They defy the law. The law very clearly says that upon requests by the Ways and Means Committee, the IRS should turn over anybody’s taxes. They’re simply ignoring that. So they’re ignoring the law, and they’re stonewalling and hoping that they can get away with it. We cannot have a situation where the president becomes a king or a dictator. I mean, the American people understand that nobody, not — not — not the president, nobody may be above the law. And we have to enforce that.”
But just how do Democrats begin to actually enforce consequences when one of the principal officials held up in this constitutional mess happens to be the chief law enforcement officer of the land, and this officer–the attorney general–seems more interested in protecting the president than in actual, well, law enforcement?
This quandary hasn’t gone unnoticed.
A reporter at her regular press conference last week asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that “as a practical matter,” do the measures that Democrats are trying to implement “have any teeth behind them that will really compel the administration to comply with your request?”
Pelosi began by praising the work of the committees and chairpersons involved — and she suggested perhaps taking matters to court.
“That’s up to the committee chairs to give us their guidance because they have worked so hard on this and they know the territory very well,” Pelosi said. “… So, yes, I do think they have teeth.”
In a separate interview, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) left open the likelihood of jail time, fines and disbarment as consequences for continued defiance of congressional oversight.
“I believe that is ultimately in our future because of the reckless defiance across the board of the Trump administration and former Trump administration officials. Congress is not going to roll over and play dead,” Connolly said. “And we won an election in November, and part of our mandate was to provide checks and balance on an unchecked, unbalanced presidency. And we’re going to do that, whatever is required.”
Lawmakers may not yet be speaking of it, at least publicly, but in the near-term “whatever is required” might ultimately include arrest.
Robert Reich, a prominent member of President Bill Clinton’s Cabinet, recently published an essay advocating arrest of Attorney General Barr should he miss his subpoena as he now has.
Pelosi’s Police Department (and jail, too)
Although no one in this position has been arrested since 1935, it’s actually not too far fetched–certainly if the Trump team continue what amounts to unlawful obstruction of Congress.
Most people don’t realize this, but Nancy Pelosi has her own fully trained, professional police force at her disposal. She need not rely entirely on law enforcement under the executive branch.
Like other federal law enforcement officers, Capitol Police officers first undergo education at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Georgia. After graduating from FLETC, trainees return to the US Capitol Police (USCP) Training Academy in Cheltenham, Md., for additional work before hitting their beat.
If required, Pelosi could potentially use the 2,200-person US Capitol Police to round up and arrest those found to have broken the law.
USCP is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). The department was awarded CALEA’s Gold Standard with Excellence – the highest rating a law enforcement agency can receive during the evaluation process, according to USCP.
USCP is maintained with annual budget of about $450 million.
Pelosi and the House also apparently have the ability on their own to detain individuals, such as those who resist congressional subpoenas.
“I don’t think we’re going to go that far, but courts have upheld that,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, was recently quoted by CQ-Roll Call.
Pelosi and other Democrats certainly do not want want to “go there” yet politically when it comes to potentially jailing people on congressional say-so, despite recent speculation and research into an almost ancient jail built into the Capitol building just for this purpose.
“I went to the Architect of the Capitol and found out where the old Capitol jail was located,” long-time Senate counsel Chuck Ludlam said in an interview which was part of a Senate Historical Office’s oral history project. “There was at one time a jail here in the Capitol where the Congress could imprison citizens who refused to comply with its subpoenas.”