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House Democrats Could Arrest William Barr for Contempt

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We also have the power—and I should say I’m speaking for myself here, because I don’t know how many people I’ve been able to convince about this—but we do have the power to exercise the so-called inherent powers of contempt of Congress. It was ruled in the 19th century, in a case called Anderson v. Dunn in 1821, that Congress has the power to enforce its own orders. Just as a court can enforce its orders, Congress can enforce its orders. And, in the 19th century, Congress had the sergeant-at-arms arrest and detain people until they complied with lawful orders of Congress. And we would have the power to fine people who were out of compliance with the law. So that provides another avenue.

Berman: If it got to that point, do you think the House would have the attorney general arrested by the sergeant-at-arms?

Raskin: Well, the vast majority of the Judiciary Committee, much less the House itself, are just not aware of this process. So it’s just premature to be talking about it. But, you know, its day in the sun is coming. We will educate people about the power of the House to do it. The executive branch is acting in categorical bad-faith contempt of Congress. This is not like a dispute over one document, or the timing of the arrival of a particular witness. This is the president of the United States ordering the executive branch not to comply with the lawful requests of Congress.

The Supreme Court has emphasized that Congress has the power of inquiry and investigation. This is essential to our lawmaking function. We have a responsibility to research how the current laws are working, and what conditions are that might require legislative changes. We also have a specific power, the Supreme Court has emphasized, to investigate corruption, self-dealing, fraud, waste, and abuse in the executive branch of government. So, you know, this is not some peripheral schoolyard skirmish. This goes right to the heart of our ability to do our work as Congress of the United States.

Berman: From your point of view, would you personally support and advocate this move, that in modern times is unprecedented, to have the attorney general arrested by the sergeant-at-arms? Would you personally advocate that?

Raskin: Well, no, nobody has advocated that specifically. But I just want to make sure that we have all instruments on the table, and we should be aware that Congress has inherent powers of contempt that can relate to fines, orders, as well as arrests. But I, you know, nobody’s calling for that at this point.

Berman: Is there a risk that if the president does resist all of these attempts by the House to conduct their oversight, and if he wins in the courts, that it would actually set a new precedent for executive authority? That he could end up not only skirting oversight himself, but that, through court rulings, it could end up that the presidency itself winds up with more power?

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