Now that House Democrats are armed with the Mueller report and are seeking to fully expose Donald Trump’s crimes for all to see, Trump is responding by ordering his own people to break every law on the books, in the hope of obstructing every House investigation. The question has been what the House would do in response. Now we’re getting our answer, and it comes down to one word: punishment.
House Democrats are considering holding Donald Trump’s underlings in contempt of Congress and hitting them with monetary fines, according to the headline of a new article from Bloomberg. But the real story is buried a bit further down in the article, where it’s revealed that House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler is looking at far worse than mere fines. He’s talking about throwing Trump’s people in jail for refusing to cooperate.
Back in the old days, Congress had its own local jail, and it would lock people up for refusing to cooperate with investigations. At that point a judge would decide whether keeping the person locked up was warranted, and if the person should be ordered to cooperate. That practice stopped decades ago, and it’s been widely assumed that Congress no longer has the power to do it. But best we can tell, Congress simply stopped doing it over the years, for fear of coming off as overbearing.
For instance, cabinet members like Janet Reno and Eric Holder have been held in contempt of Congress, for refusing to cooperate with investigations they felt were inappropriate. Imagine the political blowback if the Republicans had arrested someone like Holder, while he was the Attorney General, over an investigation that most people didn’t understand or care about anyway.
But when it comes to the current House investigations into Donald Trump, who has committed several imprisonable felonies according to the Mueller report, and several more imprisonable felonies according to the SDNY, the circumstances are very different. Polling shows that most Americans think Trump is a criminal, and most Americans want answers about Trump’s crimes.
Would the House Democrats lose anything politically by arresting Steve Mnuchin for illegally refusing to hand over Trump’s tax returns, or arresting Stephen Miller for refusing to show up and testify? If anything, the Democrats would probably gain points with the American people by arresting some of Trump’s obstructors. So we’re not surprised to see Chairman Nadler seeking to lock them up. We’ll see if it happens, but it’s now clearly on the table.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report