By Ronn Blitzer
Published May 16, 2019
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been loath to endorse the ideas of impeaching President Trump or using Congress' inherent contempt power to detain Attorney General Bill Barr, but on Thursday she suggested that Democrats could use these powers in creative ways to get what they want.
Pelosi said that even if they don't actually impeach Trump, House committees could use impeachment as an excuse to subpoena documents that they otherwise might not be able to get. The Trump administration has argued that congressional demands for documents have not had a required legislative purpose, and Pelosi believes this would work around that requirement.
"One of the purposes that the Constitution spells out for investigation is impeachment," Pelosi said during her weekly news conference. "And so you can say, and the courts would respect if you said, we need this information to carry out our oversight responsibilities, and among them is impeachment. It doesn't mean you're going on an impeachment path, but it means if you had that information, you might."
Trump has argued in court documents that subpoenas for his personal financial records did not have a legitimate legislative purpose. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin used the same reason for denying a House Ways and Means Committee request for the president's tax returns.
In another shift, Pelosi said that Congress could consider using its power of inherent contempt for Attorney General Bill Barr. This power allows Congress to detain a person in the Capitol jail, which has not been done since 1935. The House Judiciary Committee voted to hold Barr in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over a fully unredacted version of the Mueller report. The full House has yet to vote on the matter.
Pelosi had previously opposed the idea of using inherent contempt to detain anyone. On Thursday, she said fines could be an alternative penalty, but she would not say whether or not she actually supports this.
"This is one of the possibilities that is out there. I’m not saying we’re going down that path but I’m just saying it’s not to be excluded. Nothing is off the table," she said.
When pressed on what her position is on using inherent contempt, Pelosi dodged.
"I don’t have to have a position," she said.
Inherent contempt has been a tactic advocated by some rank-and-file Democrats who suggest it's their only path to enforce compliance. During a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday, law professor Jonathan Turley warned that Democrats would be "heading into a world of hurt" if they went through the court system -- the more traditional path for contempt disputes.