WASHINGTON D.C., DC — QUESTION:
Can you be arrested for ignoring a Congressional subpoena?
Yes. Congressional leaders can send the Sergeant At Arms to arrest and detain anyone who refuses to comply with a subpoena. However, law experts tell the Verify team that this is highly unlikely.
- Ilya Somin -- George Mason University Law Professor
- Congressional Research Service -- "Congress's Contempt Power and the Enforcement of Congressional Subpoenas" Law History, Practice, and Procedure," "Congressional Subpoenas: Enforcing Executive Branch Compliance"
It's a question that has popped up before. Viewers have reached out to the Verify team questioning how someone could simply ignore a Congressional subpoena.
Lewis Braithwaite, from Clinton, Md., reached out to voice his concern.
"Why are they not being penalized?" he asked.
Braithwaite was concerned that this was a double standard.
"When I get a subpoena, as a citizen, I better show up," he said. "If I don't show up, there's consequences. I'm either going to jail, there's a fine, or both."
Our Verify researchers turned to constitutional expert, Ilya Somin from George Mason University, and two reports from the Congressional Research Service.
Somin confirmed that Congress has three options to get someone to comply with a subpoena.
First, they could ask the U.S. Attorney of the District of Columbia -- in this case, Jessie Liu -- to bring criminal contempt charges, which comes with a fine up to $100,000 and prison time.
In October, our researchers contacted Liu’s spokesperson, asking if they would bring charges against the Trump administration. They said "no comment."
Another option is for Congress to file a civil lawsuit in federal court. In this situation, a judge could order someone to comply with the subpoena.
The last option involves the Sergeant At Arms, who can be ordered by Congress to detain anyone who doesn't comply with a subpoena.
"That third option is rarely used," Somin said. "If I recall correctly it has not been used since the 1930s. But it could be, at least in principle."
So yes, we can verify that technically Congress can order someone to be arrested in order to comply with a subpoena.