Members of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol have floated the idea of seeking a referral for criminal contempt as the next step for anyone who defies a subpoena from the panel.
But what does that mean?
Criminal contempt is one of the three options the congressional panel can pursue to enforce its subpoenas, along with civil and inherent contempt. While lawmakers have said publicly that the committee is prepared to pursue criminal charges for noncompliant witnesses, members are now making it clear they are ready to move quickly if they don’t get the level of cooperation they are looking for.
“I think we are completely of one mind that if people refuse to respond to questions, refuse to produce documents without justification, that we will hold them in criminal contempt and refer them to the Justice Department,” Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat and committee member, told CNN on Tuesday.
How it would work: To pursue criminal contempt charges, Congress would vote on criminal contempt, then make a referral to the executive branch — headed by the President — to try to get the person criminally prosecuted.
A jail sentence of a month or more is possible if a witness won’t comply, under the law.
It’s unclear how quickly this route would move, and how the Biden Justice Department would respond to a contempt referral from the Democrats in the House. The process would leave it up to Attorney General Merrick Garland to decide on involving the Justice Department in pursuing charges, putting the department in the middle of what many Republicans view as a partisan effort.
But Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, one of two Republicans on the panel, told CNN that “the committee is completely in solidarity” on the decision to move quickly on pursuing criminal contempt charges for those who evade subpoena deadlines.
“People will have the opportunity to cooperate. They will have the opportunity to come in and work with us as they should,” Cheney said. “If they fail to do so, then we’ll enforce our subpoenas.”
Read about the other options the congressional panel could pursue here.