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From The Washington Post's ‘We’ve been very weak’: House Democrats decry their oversight of Trump, push Pelosi on impeachment:

Several Democrats on the panel privately pressed House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) to hold Lewandowski in contempt on the spot, an idea Pelosi later endorsed — spurring their sense of urgency. But Nad­ler’s staff, which wanted to keep the focus on Trump, said the logistics of doing so immediately were too complicated, if not impossible — a decision that left many on the panel feeling angry and frustrated.

“To clear up a technical point: House rules do not permit us to hold anyone in contempt on the spot,” wrote one Judiciary staffer in an email to placate panel members earlier in the week. “Which is not to say we do not understand the strong impulse to punch this guy in the mouth.”

The Washington Post obtained a copy of the email.

Wikipedia's article United States House of Representatives does not contain the word "contempt" and to my knowledge House rules and procedures are known to be complex and non-obvious, apparently even to some House members. So I'd like to ask:

Question: What are the US House of representatives rules on holding a non-cooperating witness in contempt of congress?

Are there clear procedures, rules or at least precedents for holding a witness in contempt of congress if they refuse to answer questions for reasons that the House does not recognize as justified? I think in this specific case it happens to be a letter from the White House citing "executive privilege" but my question is not intended to address that reason specifically.


update: a mention of "inherent contempt" of congress by US representative Mike Quigley on TV https://youtu.be/2jM5g5WE-O4?t=222

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What are the US House of representatives rules on holding a non-cooperating witness in contempt of congress?

Contempt of Congress:

Contempt of Congress is the act of obstructing the work of the United States Congress or one of its committees. ... In modern times, contempt of Congress has generally applied to the refusal to comply with a subpoena issued by a Congressional committee or subcommittee—usually seeking to compel either testimony or the production of requested documents.

Procedures

There are different procedures for Inherent contempt, Statutory proceedings, and Civil procedures.

With statutory proceedings, deciding that a person shall be held in contempt of Congress is a process with hearings, resolutions, votes, etc., that results in a report, providing the facts, delivered to the Speaker of the House. The Speaker then sends the information to a United States Attorney for a decision by a grand jury. The United States Attorney may not necessarily present the case to a grand jury, for example, the contempt charge against A.G. Eric Holder never went to a grand jury.


The Congressional Research Service has a very detailed report: Congress’s Contempt Power and the Enforcement of Congressional Subpoenas: Law, History, Practice, and Procedure (89 pages). The section The Holder Contempt (pp. 44-51), concerning documents related to Operation Fast and Furious and executive privilege, is detailed from the beginning to (almost the) end.

Barr Was Just Held in Contempt, as the Case Against Eric Holder Settles, May 8, 2019, reports the case against A.G. Holder has been settled; but not to the satisfaction of U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the District of Columbia.


Here is a summary example of the initiation of contempt against Attorney General Barr.

H.Res. 430 was introduced June 6, 2019 and agreed to on June 11, 2019.

The Committee on Rules held a hearing on June 10, 2019. (Details omitted.)

The resolution H.Res. 430 (in part):

H. Res. 430

Resolved, That the chair of the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives is authorized, on behalf of such Committee, to initiate or intervene in any judicial proceeding before a Federal court—

(1) to seek declaratory judgments and any and all ancillary relief, including injunctive relief, affirming the duty of—

(A) William P. Barr, Attorney General, to comply with the subpoena that is the subject of the resolution accompanying House Report 116–105; and

(B) Donald F. McGahn, II, former White House Counsel, to comply with the subpoena issued to him on April 22, 2019; and

(2) to petition for disclosure of information regarding any matters identified in or relating to the subpoenas referred to in paragraph (1) or any accompanying report, pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e), including Rule 6(e)(3)(E) (providing that the court may authorize disclosure of a grand-jury matter “preliminarily to * * * a judicial proceeding”).

...

The report (in part):

RESOLUTION RECOMMENDING THAT THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
FIND WILLIAM P. BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF
JUSTICE, IN CONTEMPT OF CONGRESS FOR REFUSAL TO COMPLY WITH A
SUBPOENA DULY ISSUED BY THE COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY

The Committee on the Judiciary, having considered this Report, reports favorably thereon and recommends that the Report be approved.

The form of Resolution that the Committee on the Judiciary would recommend to the House of Representatives for citing William P. Barr, Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, for contempt of Congress pursuant to this Report is as follows:

Resolved, That William P. Barr, Attorney General of the United States, shall be found to be in contempt of Congress for failure to comply with a congressional subpoena.

Resolved, That pursuant to 2 U.S.C. §§ 192 and 194, the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall certify the report of the Committee on the Judiciary, detailing the refusal of William P. Barr, Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, to produce documents to the Committee on the Judiciary as directed by subpoena, to the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, to the end that Mr. Barr be proceeded against in the manner and form provided by law.

Resolved, That the Speaker of the House shall otherwise take all appropriate action to enforce the subpoena.

A PDF of the final report is available.


Following is the text from the referenced code:

2 U.S. Code § 192.Refusal of witness to testify or produce papers

Every person who having been summoned as a witness by the authority of either House of Congress to give testimony or to produce papers upon any matter under inquiry before either House, or any joint committee established by a joint or concurrent resolution of the two Houses of Congress, or any committee of either House of Congress, willfully makes default, or who, having appeared, refuses to answer any question pertinent to the question under inquiry, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000 nor less than $100 and imprisonment in a common jail for not less than one month nor more than twelve months.

[The maximum fine is now $100,000.]

2 U.S. Code § 194.Certification of failure to testify or produce; grand jury action

Whenever a witness summoned as mentioned in section 192 of this title fails to appear to testify or fails to produce any books, papers, records, or documents, as required, or whenever any witness so summoned refuses to answer any question pertinent to the subject under inquiry before either House, or any joint committee established by a joint or concurrent resolution of the two Houses of Congress, or any committee or subcommittee of either House of Congress, and the fact of such failure or failures is reported to either House while Congress is in session or when Congress is not in session, a statement of fact constituting such failure is reported to and filed with the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House, it shall be the duty of the said President of the Senate or Speaker of the House, as the case may be, to certify, and he shall so certify, the statement of facts aforesaid under the seal of the Senate or House, as the case may be, to the appropriate United States attorney, whose duty it shall be to bring the matter before the grand jury for its action.

  • This is a profoundly thorough, interesting and satisfying answer, thank you very much! – uhoh Sep 23 at 15:21
  • Apparently US representative Mike Quigley has read your answer ;-) youtu.be/2jM5g5WE-O4?t=222 – uhoh Oct 2 at 5:33
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This document written by Todd Garvey in 2017, a legislative Attorney, on behalf of the Congressional Research Service is titled "Congress’s Contempt Power and the Enforcement of Congressional Subpoenas: Law, History, Practice, and Procedure". It goes through each house's powers, the laws from which they are derived and historical case studies.

Some recent examples of holding someone in contempt would be Mr. Pagilano, or these two Bush aides.

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    Welcome to Politics.SE! This looks like exactly the document that would have the answer, but can you edit in a few relevant quotes in case it gets moved and the link breaks? – Bobson Sep 23 at 15:43

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