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NOT ABOVE THE LAW

 

 

 

Will the top law enforcement official in the nation be held in contempt?

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WHAT’S HAPPENING

Today the House Judiciary Committee, led by Democrats, will vote on whether to hold Attorney General William Barr, appointed by a Republican President, in contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena demanding the unredacted Special Counsel report.

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LET’S BACK UP

What’s “Contempt”?

Generally speaking, a person is held in contempt of court when they fail to abide by a court order (ex: not showing up for hearing or meeting with probation officer) or disrespects the court (ex: yells a judge).

Penalties range from $ to jail time.

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Contempt of Congress?

  • Congress issues subpoenas to obtain documents and/or elicit testimony as part of its oversight or investigative powers.
  • When someone refuses to comply, Congress may either pursue a criminal contempt case (via a contempt citation) or a civil lawsuit to enforce the subpoena.
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HISTORICALLY SPEAKING

  • There’s actually a third option – Congress has an inherent contempt power that would allow the Sergeant-at-Arms to detain a person in the Capitol jail, but that hasn’t been used since 1935.
  • If the House Judiciary cmte votes to file a contempt citation against AG Barr, he’d be the 4th AG since 1980 to have one against him.
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BIGGER PICTURE

  • Important but largely symbolic.
  • If today’s contempt vote is approved, it needs to pass the full House before a citation is issued.
  • Even then, a contempt citation wouldn’t force the DOJ to release the full report, and it doesn’t mean Barr will face a criminal charge.
  • It would send a criminal referral to the U.S. atty in D.C., a DOJ official, who is unlikely to pursue a case.
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Some say that neither the White House nor House Dems want any potential contempt cases to end up in a court of law, and that their real intentions are to keep these issues fresh in voters' minds as the 2020 election approaches.

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