A showdown is looming between the U.S. Congress and the Department of Justice over subpoenas Congress believes the DOJ is refusing to answer. Two Congressmen filed a resolution on Wednesday which if passed could force the DOJ to comply with their requests.
Congressmen Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Mark Meadows (R-North Carolina) filed a resolution expressing “that the Department of Justice (DOJ) shall provide certain documents to Congress relating to ongoing congressional investigations into the actions of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the DOJ.”
The resolution further cites that there have been repeated actions “by the DOJ to stonewall congressional oversight.”
In addition, the resolution gives the “DOJ seven days from its enactment to turn over documents related to both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller in the “Russian collusion investigation,” as well as various decisions made by the FBI during the 2016 presidential election.”
The reasons given for why the resolution is deemed necessary are as follows:
“This resolution follows repeated refusals by the DOJ to provide documents for congressional oversight, including a violation of two subpoenas from Chairman Devin Nunes of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and Chairman Bob Goodlatte of the House Committee on the Judiciary.”
Apparently, allegations that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein threatened Congressmen in January that he would “subpoena” emails, phone records and other documents from lawmakers and staff on a Republican-led House committee” which many saw as a “personal attack,” was the last stray for Jordan.
Jordan released the following statement in response to Rosenstein’s actions:
“This resolution gives the DOJ seven days to turn over the documents that they owe Congress. Rod Rosenstein threatened congressional staff. When the bully picks on your little brother, you have to respond. It’s time for House Leadership to stand up and pass this resolution.”
Meadows released a statement of his own citing his frustration with Rosenstein:
“For nearly 8 months, we have been asking Mr. Rosenstein to turn over the documents and answer legitimate questions from Congress about his troubling conduct during the 2016 Presidential election and leading up to the appointment of the special counsel. Yet over and over again, Rosenstein continues to circumvent any level of accountability. It’s clear Rod Rosenstein has no interest in cooperating, and we are done talking.”
Congress will decide whether or not to pass the resolution.
While Congress has the authority under the Constitution to hold someone in contempt for not responding to a subpoena, it is unclear whether holding someone in contempt in this case would be given “any teeth” where Rosenstein is concerned.
If Congress uses its powers to hold Rosenstein in contempt, the next step would typically be to refer the case to the Department of Justice, arrest the person or ask the court to compel the Rosenstein to comply with the subpoenas.
It would be up to the Department of Justice to decide whether the Rosenstein should be prosecuted.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has stated that he is confident Rosenstein didn’t threaten members of Congress.
“Well, I don’t know if they’ve confirmed that exactly. In fact the FBI Director, the senior ethics attorney for the Department of Justice who was in the room said that is a mischaracterization of really of what occurred… We understand in this department that we are accountable to the president and are accountable to Congress.”
Sessions went on to say: “All I can say is Chris Wray and the senior ethics attorney and others and did not see it in that same fashion.”
It would be highly unlikely, based on Sessions’ statements in defense of Rosenstein, that Sessions would allow proceedings against Rosenstein.
Perhaps the only path forward for Congress should it pass the resolution and hold Rosenstein in contempt would be to direct the Senate Legal Counsel to proceed with a civil action against the DOJ, taking the case completely out of the hands Sessions.