House Democrats are considering imposing large fines, to be paid by the individual, not their office, up to $25,000 a day, for Trump administration officials refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas. Under its seldom-used inherent contempt power, the House has the authority to impose these fines or even jail individuals held in contempt. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) said yesterday that Democrats are considering imposing the fines as a motivating factor, but not jailing the offenders, at least for now – it would be up to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to decide to move forward to use this inherent contempt power.
This inherent contempt power would allow the house to adjudicate the contempt charges without going to an outside body, like a court, and it is a power which has been used only rarely. These are unusual times, however, calling for unusual measures in response to President Trump’s stonewalling and denial of legislative branch authority to provide oversight of his administration. Schiff said yesterday, according to The Hill, that “One thing we are considering … is whether we need to revive Congress’s inherent contempt power, such that we would have our own adjudication of the Congress and we would levy fines on those who are not cooperating until they produce what they are compelled to produce,” and “I think it’s much more practical to consider levying individual fines on the person, not the office, until they comply. You could fine someone $25,000 a day until they comply and that would probably get their attention.” According to The Hill:
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said Friday that Congress is considering reviving its inherent contempt power to levy hefty fines on Trump administration officials and others who refuse to comply with congressional subpoenas. …Schiff said he was not interested in using the inherent contempt power to jail individuals who evade congressional subpoenas, but suggested fines — up to $25,000 per day — would be a “practical” way to compel them to comply with the myriad investigations underway by the Democratic-led House. …The inherent contempt power is rarely used. Under it, an individual can be detained at the Capitol or face fines for failing to comply with congressional oversight investigations. …Schiff said it would ultimately be up to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) whether to use the inherent contempt power. He said it would represent a “big step” but may be necessary if the Trump administration continues to stonewall Democrats’ investigations.
Democrats have floated other ideas as well, such as withholding the salaries of those responsible for keeping administration officials from testifying, which could effect not just the person subpoenaed, but also higher level officials making the decisions. The Trump administration is stonewalling, failing to comply with requests and subpoenas, both for testimony and for documents. Some of those battles between the legislative and executive branches are already headed to court, which could inject lengthy delays in resolving them. Trying something like this inherent contempt power Congress has, which would allow the House not to have to appeal to a court to dole out large fines, is one way perhaps to find a faster remedy.