Impeachment is Congress’s most famous, yet rarely exercised, power over wayward presidents and other federal officers. But as Trump-administration officials continue to defy House subpoenas related to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, Democrats in control of the chamber could turn to an even blunter weapon in their arsenal: arrest.
Courts have recognized that the House and Senate each have the authority to enforce their orders by imprisoning those who violate them—literally. They can direct their respective sergeant at arms to arrest officials they’ve found to be in contempt and bring them to the Capitol for trial and, potentially, jail. Congress hasn’t invoked what’s known as the “power of inherent contempt” in nearly a century, but the escalating clash between two co-equal branches of government has Democrats talking about moves previously deemed unthinkable.
“Its day in the sun is coming,” Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland told me by phone on Tuesday. Raskin, a second-term Democrat and former constitutional-law professor, sits on the House Judiciary Committee, which on Wednesday approved, on a vote of 24–16, a resolution finding Attorney General William Barr in contempt for his refusal to give Congress the full, unredacted Mueller report. As lawmakers met to consider the move, the White House carried out its threat to assert executive privilege over the document.