Nadler Is Seriously Considering ‘Very Large’ Fines For Subpoena Defiers

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) attends a news conference on April 9, 2019. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
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May 15, 2019 3:05 p.m.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) said Wednesday that he is seriously considering imposing fines, via the arcane congressional authority known as inherent contempt, for those resisting the House’s subpoenas.

Asked by reporters on Capitol Hill whether this would include Attorney General Bill Barr — whom Nadler’s committee recently recommended should be held in contempt by the full House — Nadler said “it would be for anybody who is held in inherent contempt.”

Barr has resisted a Democratic subpoena that he turn over the unredacted report submitted by special counsel Robert Mueller, as well as the underlying materials. But he is not the only administration figure who has blown off a request by House Democrats for documents.

“Inherent contempt is a procedure for enforcing a subpoena of the House,” Nadler said. “It was the main procedure was used for 150 years. And we may have to do it again.”

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It was last used nearly 100 years ago, but the idea has gained traction given President Trump’s blanket stonewalling of oversight request from House Democrats. Congress also has the option of detaining subpoena defiers under inherent contempt, but given the logistical issues of that route, much of the conversation on the Hill has centered around using inherent contempt to impose fines.

Nadler said the idea is being considered in addition to the use of civil contempt, a process by which a court is asked to impose penalties for the defiance of the subpoena.

Nadler couldn’t put an exact dollar amount on the hypothetical fines, but said he they would be “very large amounts.”

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