Today, the House Judiciary Committee laid out the contempt of Congress case against Donald Trump’s Attorney General William Barr. The contempt process is a complex one and it’ll have to be voted on twice before Barr is officially held in contempt, but it’s now fully underway. In the meantime, a separate move on the part of House Democrats just tipped off how far they’re going to take things, and how ugly it’ll be for Trump’s people.
Numerous House Democrats just made a legal move to try to invalidate Donald Trump’s pardon of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio. What does this have to do with holding Trump’s current officials in contempt? Everything. The move isn’t aimed at putting the eighty-six year old Arpaio in prison for contempt of court. Instead it’s about establishing the legal precedent that Trump can’t pardon people for contempt.
There’s a solid legal case laid out about pardons and contempt in Roll Call. But here’s the part we’re more interested in: if House Democrats were merely planning to hold people like Barr and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin for contempt of Congress and then slap them on the wrist, with punishment such as a small monetary fine or a concerned scowl, there would obviously be no need for Trump to pardon them.
The only way Donald Trump would consider trying to pardon people like Barr and Mnuchin is if the House Democrats hit them with such harsh punishment, he ends up with no choice but to try to bail them out of it. There’s legal precedent for the House to arrest them for contempt and put them in jail, and there’s also recent precedent for hiring an outside prosecutor to put them on trial while working around the DOJ. We don’t know what the Democrats have in mind – but they just tipped off that it’s something so ugly, Trump will have to decide whether to try to pardon them.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report