Issa to Hold BATF in Contempt: What Does that Mean?

The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) has refused to honor a subpoena for records from Congressman Darrell Issa’s House Oversight Committee. Issa has said if the requested documents are not made available, BATF will be held in contempt of Congress. Is that a big-so-what? What can Congress do about it? What comes next?

Contempt of Congress

Once the full House has voted on a charge of “contempt, it is turned over to the District Attorney for the District of Columbia. The law says the U.S. attorney “SHALL” bring the matter to a grand jury, but there have been DA’s who have refused to prosecute, the last in the Reagan administration. If a person is found guilty of Contempt of Congress, it is” a federal misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum $100,000 fine and a maximum one-year sentence in federal prison.”


Q: When was the last time a full chamber of Congress, either the Senate or the House, voted on a contempt of Congress citation?

A: The year was 1983. The House voted 413-0 to cite former Environmental Protection Agency official Rita Lavelle for contempt of Congress for refusing to appear before a House committee. Lavelle was later acquitted in court of the contempt charge, but she was convicted of perjury in a separate trial.

Q: Does the president’s executive privilege trump Congress’ contempt citation?

A: That’s the big question that both sides really don’t want answered. In the past, neither side has been willing to let the matter go up to the Supreme Court for fear that their side would lose…

If Congress loses, then it would have a hard time investigating future presidents, Republican and Democrat. If the White House loses, the current president and future ones can expect numerous requests from a reinvigorated Congress, whether controlled by the Democrats or Republicans.

Congressman Issa’s threat revolves around subpoenaed documents in the case of Project Gunrunner and Operation Fast and Furious, involving U.S. authorities, unlawfully, letting thousands of high-powered weapons cross the U.S. border into Mexico in the hope of tracing serial numbers to drug cartels. Border Agent Brian Terry was recently killed in the line of duty by one of those weapons.

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