User's Manual to Contempt of Congress

With the meeting scheduled at 5 pm Eastern Tuesday and a potential markup session on Wednesday to prepare the contempt resolution, here is a primer for how the process works:

1) The subpoenaed witness either refuses to show or refuses to answer a question.

2) The Congressional committee decides to hold him or her in contempt and takes a majority vote to do to that. They issue a "contempt citation."

3) The contempt citation is presented to the full House. A member of the House must then offer a privileged resolution directing the Speaker of the House to send the matter to a U.S. Attorney.

4) The House debates and votes to adopt the resolution by majority vote.

5) The Speaker directs the House Legal counsel to present the facts in a document and he certifies it and sends the fact document to the U.S. Attorney.

6) The U.S. Attorney must convene a Grand Jury.

7) The Grand Jury reviews the fact document and may want to call witnesses to testify before it.

8) The Grand Jury, after its proceedings, decides to indict the individual [or not indict.]

9) If indicted, the U.S. Attorney then mounts a prosecution of the individual in a court of law.

10) The statute [written in 1857] which still governs the contempt of Congress process today, requires that the following case be made for conviction:[a] The answers the individual refused to give to Congress must relate to a legislative purpose and [b] The answers must fall topically within the grant of authority made by Congress to that specific congressional committee.

11) The committee, through the prosecuting attorney, must make the case that their questions are pertinent.

12) The jury decides if the individual is guilty of contempt of Congress or not.

13) If the individual is convicted the statute sets out the mandatory punishment:[a] a fine of up to $1,000 but no more and/or b] a jail sentence of up to one year, but no more.