House Democrats to Launch Contempt Proceedings Against Secretary of State Mike Pompeo - Do You Support the Move?
Do you support contempt proceedings against Secretary of State Mike Pompeo?
by Causes | 8.28.20
What’s the story?
- House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-NY) on Friday announced that his committee will start working on a resolution holding Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in contempt for failing to comply with subpoenas, saying:
“From Mr. Pompeo’s refusal to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry to his willingness to bolster a Senate Republican-led smear against the President’s political rivals to his speech to the RNC which defied his own guidance and possibly the law, he has demonstrated alarming disregard for the laws and rules governing his own conduct and for the tools the constitution provides to prevent government corruption.
- Pompeo addressed the Republican National Convention from Jerusalem, Israel, on Wednesday via a video-taped speech that praised President Donald Trump’s foreign policy, the relocation of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The State Dept. and Pompeo have insisted that he delivered the speech without using agency resources and in a personal capacity.
- In 2019, House Democrats voted to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt for failing to honor subpoenas.
What is contempt of Congress?
Contempt is used by the House and Senate to respond to actions viewed as obstructing the legislative and oversight process by forcing compliance, punishing the subject of contempt (aka the contemnor), or removing the obstruction. Congressional contempt power can be exercised in three ways according to the Congressional Research Service:
- Inherent Contempt: This method draws on Congress’s constitutional authority to try and detain the contemnor until the individual complies with congressional demands. It is also functionally dormant, as it was last used in 1935.
- Criminal Contempt: This allows Congress to punish subpoena non-compliance with a by certifying a contempt citation for the criminal prosecution of the contemnor with the DOJ, rather than serving as a mechanism for obtaining the subpoenaed material.
- Civil Enforcement: Congress has the power to seek a civil judgment in federal court declaring that the contemnor is legally obligated to comply with the congressional subpoena.
It’s possible to enforce congressional subpoenas through civil action, but it can take a long time to obtain a final, enforceable ruling due to the appeals process. There are also obstacles to congressional subpoena enforcement against executive branch officials through the use of criminal contempt or civil enforcement. In terms of criminal contempt, based on past practice the DOJ doesn’t prosecute contempt if executive privilege is invoked. That was the case for several contempt citations involving executive branch officials approved by the House and sent to the DOJ in recent decades:
- EPA Administrator Anne Gorsuch Burford (1982): Gorsuch was subpoenaed for documents related to the functioning of the Superfund program, which cleans and repairs environmental areas contaminated by toxic waste, during the Reagan administration.
- Former WH Counsel Harriet Miers & WH Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten (2008): Miers was subpoenaed for documents and testimony related to the George W. Bush White House’s involvement in requesting the resignations of U.S. attorneys, while Bolten was subpoenaed for similar records.
- Attorney General Eric Holder (2012): Holder was subpoenaed for records related to the Obama administration’s Operation Fast & Furious, under which the ATF allowed semi-automatic “assault” rifles to be sold to straw-buyers who transferred them to drug cartels. The weapons were used in numerous murders near the U.S.-Mexico border, including the 2010 killing of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
- Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross (2019): The Cabinet officials were held in contempt for failing to produce documents related to the decision to attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census that were the subject of congressional subpoenas. The Trump administration asserted executive privilege over the documents. The Supreme Court issued a decision that held adding a citizenship question could be justified, but the Trump administration failed to provide a coherent rationale for it.
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: U.S. State Dept. via Flickr / Public Domain)
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