Congressional subpoenas and how they work in the spotlight

Brookings Institute Fellow Margaret Taylor said Congress could invoke "inherent contempt power" by sending Capitol Police to retrieve officials if they don't comply with a subpoena to testify.
5:28 | 04/24/19

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Transcript for Congressional subpoenas and how they work in the spotlight
Let's get into now Livermore. Deeper house appears actually work what powered this congress to the Democrats actually have. To compel testimony from somebody like Don began to get the president's tax returns. He can they do this joining us now. For a little bit more on those questions and some analysis legal analysis is Margaret Taylor. I thought the Brookings Institution also senior editor who lost her blog and a former I chief counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Margaret thanks so much for coming great to see you. Thank you for having me so break it down for us to the Democrats had any real power here when it comes to issuing the subpoenas to the White House. So they do. And it's not specifically outlined in the constitution. But the Supreme Court has over and over recognize. That broad power of congress to investigate. To obtain testimony and documents. And so that's really what what we're we're talking about here now us congressional subpoena. It's one of the tools that congress uses to effectuate. That power that oversight and investigative power. These subpoenas are typically. Issued by Afghan congressional committee either by a vote or by the chairman of the committee issuing a subpoena. I'm an inning and they are real thing and there there an embodiment of congress'. Power to investigate. Now actually dear Jim are hardly actually enforce them do that can make actually issue fines can they hold. Say down again if he refuses to come and he could could congress throw him in jail. So that. To clean and it needs a few answers to that. I'm there is in theory there's a possibility that the congress can issue something called a content. Citation. And then the executive branch could actually bring a suit against the person now. Practically speaking that he the president needs a bridge aren't typically going to do that if they oppose. The person complying with the subpoena. I'm there is called the congress is inherent. Contends power which basically to get right down to it would mean sending out the capitol police to. Tim basically get someone and put an end. Holdings base and that not on Capitol Hill. That hasn't been used for decades and decades and decades and for obvious reasons is anywhere I lay a polite. Yeah as we're we're we're a little bit shocked by what you just said so we could in theory. See the capitol police go hunt down somebody like Don McGann and and it would be quite the provocative mood. Moved to say Italy's that they could go go get him and and bring him in detain him on the hill. That in theory yes and there was a Herbert Hoover administration official that was actually held in the Willard. Hotel on decades and decades ago pursuant to that authority now that's a really. Uncommon the most crew in some way for the congress to a factually it subpoena power and its contempt citation. Is to instigate a town a civil enforcement action in court. On the problem winning this mechanism is that it can often take a very very long time. For a court to actually render a decision. On off on those issues are that is that the normal course now. I want to just mention one other thing which is that congress can use its other constitutional powers. To put pressure on the president in the executive branch to comply with subpoenas so for example the congress has the power of the purse. It could in theory you refuse to for example find something that was a high priority. For the president of the administration as a way to force that compliance with the subpoena. Yeah I mean terror that's interest and because that we've seen the congress try this before with this White House delayed confirmation hearings certain nominees. As murderous saying deny funding for certain parties that this president doesn't seem particularly bothered when he really. Just passionately about eight F. Really seen that legislation is really has priority I know he's meeting with Nancy Pelosi next week about infrastructure Burt. What are they expecting that got in the next year's and they're just having his political fights. The Democrats and Republicans have to accept that they might not have anything to show for quite funny and that's innovation they're thinking in their calculus right now. And Margaret so so what's your bottom mind here on this flurry of subpoenas that we have seen already that we expect to seen. And a lot of these trump officials who apparently now oral interview refusing the subpoenas. Will be able to run out the clock. I think it dairy is a substantial risk that the White House and president trump will be able to run out the clock. However what's unusual here is the president in the White House taking some very definitive view of no cooperation. That unusual in our history. And that type of bomb really isn't a stiff arming response across the board could have the effect of actually speeding up. Some of these court proceedings because. Typically there's a back and forth and could face accommodation process that would go on but if the White House isn't participating in that span and judge might be more willing to go ahead and get to the merits of the case and decided it. Really interest in stock Barbara Taylor at the Brookings Institution thank you so much Barbara thanks for coming in. Thank you so much for having me.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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