While the House select committee continues to investigate the Jan. 6 attack, the clock is ticking.
More than 300 witnesses have been interviewed by the committee and it is far from finished. It was under immense pressure to find answers before midterm elections that could change the balance of power. The members did not show patience and were forced to resign. Because of their failure to cooperate, two presidential allies were elected by the House Donald TrumpIn contempt of Congress: Former Trump advisor Steve Bannon, and ex-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.
But what does it mean to be “in contempt of Congress”?
Defining ‘criminal contempt’
It refers to federal criminal charges. (Not always, though.)
Bannon and Meadows are not being charged by the committee or the House in general. Rather, the committee “adopted” resolutions that say Bannon and Meadows are not cooperating and deserve to be charged by the element of the justice system that has the power to do that ― the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. This is known as “criminal contempt.”
The committee had sent Bannon, Meadows and other witnesses separate subpoenas, requesting information in two forms. One, records from Jan. 6, and the second, in-person testimony. They would then be required to answer questions by the committee. Both refused.
The House Speaker voted in agreement with the committee and approved resolutions that recommended each Trump ally be charged. House Speaker Nancy PelosiThe U.S. attorneys for the District of Columbia then transmitted the resolutions to them, which decides whether or no to prosecute.
In Bannon’s case, the U.S. attorney charged him in mid-November with two counts of, essentially, not listening to Congress. He was eventually released and surrendered. Meadows was unsure about whether he would cooperate with the committee. He decided this month, but the U.S. hasn’t yet made any announcements.
The specific charges against Bannon ― one for failing to produce documents, one for failing to appear for testimony ― could result in a fine between $100 and $1,000, and imprisonment “in a common jail” for between one month and one year.
It doesn’t always go so well. The House has voted several timesTo hold an individual in contempt for failing to cooperate in investigations. However, the Justice Department is less likely to pursue a case if an individual is part the current presidential administration. The president can exercise this power. assert executive privilege.
This was also the case for 2007 and 2008. In 2008, Congress tried unsuccessfully against Bush Administration officials to press criminal contempt charges. The Bush staffers refused to obey their subpoenas.
How can Congress accomplish anything else?
Congress also has some other options to help defend its rights.
It’s worth noting that both the House and the Senate have the power to hold someone in “inherent contempt.” But it’s a pretty aggressive option. (In the ’70s, it was dubbed “unseemly.”)
Inherent contempt means ordering the chamber’s sergeant-at-arms to arrest witnesses who fail to cooperate with Congress ― essentially hauling a person in by force. It hasn’t been used since 1934, when an aviation lawyer refused to cooperateWith a Senate investigation into federal mail contracts.
More commonly, Congress can exercise a third option, that is holding someone in “civil contempt,” which basically means Congress is suing a witness in federal court.
Civil contempt cases typically move very slowly ― way too slowly for the Jan. 6 committee.
For example, the House Ways and Means Committee began to fight the Trump government in 2019 for his tax returns and the right to sue. is still playing outThe court system. A dispute that took place between Eric Holder and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in 2012. Eric Holder was serving at the time as President. Barack Obama’s attorney general, took seven years to resolve.
You can find out more about Congress contempt here in this 89-page reportSource: Congressional Research Service.
Why are these important?
Evidently, the Jan. 6 Capitol Attack was a significant threat to American democracy. Congress has “extremely broad powers of investigation,” Cornell government professor David Alexander Bateman told HuffPost, in large part to protect that democracy.
lettersAccording to witnesses, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D.Miss.), Jan.6 committee chairman. has repeatedly included the following line: “The Select Committee is investigating the facts, circumstances, and causes of the January 6th attack and issues relating to the peaceful transfer of power in order to identify and evaluate lessons learned and to recommend to the House and its relevant committees corrective laws, policies, procedures, rules, or regulations.”
HuffPost asked Bateman to tell HuffPost what kind of recommendations he could think up.
“The real difficulty in coming up with a list is that the possibilities are nearly endless,” Bateman wrote in an email.
He gave numerous examples: Perhaps the investigation will net information about far-right extremists’ infiltration of police forces and the military, leading to laws intended to root them out. Maybe it will result in a revised definition of obstruction to federal proceedings. It may lead to new laws regarding campaign finance.
Importantly, Congress’ powers are broad enough that the Jan. 6 committee doesn’t necessarily need to come up with any legislation.
“If Congress were to hold an investigation into Jan. 6 for the sole and exclusive reason of contributing to public debate, without any goal of producing legislation, there would be clear constitutional and historical grounds for doing so,” Bateman said.
He went on: “Potentially more important than any legislative impact of the committee’s investigations will be its impact on public opinion … and on the degree to which public officials and Trump’s co-conspirators believe that they are immune from punishment or likely to be protected by partisan allies in the judiciary. If organizing a coup against the constitutionally established Republic is perceived as having no real consequences ― and so far, that seems to be an accurate perception ― or is obscured to the public through prevarications and lies and the failure of the committee to penetrate through these, then it will happen again.”
There are already critics of Jan. 6, which includes some who were not present at the meeting. highly doubt any real change or consequenceIt is expected that the company will emerge from its lengthy legal battles and close-door depositions.