“I think we are completely of one mind that if people refuse to respond to questions, refuse to produce documents without justification, that we will hold them in criminal contempt and refer them to the Justice Department,” Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat and committee member, told CNN on Tuesday.
Here’s what criminal contempt is and how it compares with civil and inherent contempt:
To pursue criminal contempt charges, Congress would vote on criminal contempt, then make a referral to the executive branch — headed by the president — to try to get the person criminally prosecuted.
A jail sentence of a month or more is possible if a witness won’t comply, under the law.
It’s unclear how quickly this route would move, and how the Biden Justice Department would respond to a contempt referral from the Democrats in the House. The process would leave it up to Attorney General Merrick Garland to decide on involving the Justice Department in pursuing charges, putting the department in the middle of what many Republicans view as a partisan effort.
“People will have the opportunity to cooperate. They will have the opportunity to come in and work with us as they should,” Cheney said. “If they fail to do so, then we’ll enforce our subpoenas.”
Unlike with criminal contempt, civil contempt would see Congress ask the judicial branch to enforce a congressional subpoena.
In other words, Congress would seek a federal court’s civil judgment saying the person is legally obligated to comply with the subpoena.
The third option the panel could use to enforce its subpoenas would be inherent contempt, which involves telling the House or Senate sergeant-at-arms to detain or imprison the person in contempt until he or she honors congressional demands.
CNN’s Zachary Cohen, Ryan Nobles, Annie Grayer, Whitney Wild and Kristen Holmes contributed to this report.