Senate Intelligence Committee chair Richard Burr said today that Michael Flynn is refusing to comply with a Congressional subpoena, although Burr has since walked back his comments, saying that Michael Flynn’s lawyers have actually not made their intentions clear, according to NBC News.
If he really is refusing to honor a Congressional committee’s subpoena, though, Michael Flynn could be found in contempt of Congress. So what is the process of finding a person in contempt of Congress, and what will happen to Michael Flynn if this occurs?
Although this has not been used in recent years, according to a 2017 Congressional report, Congress does have the authority to “detain and imprison a contemnor until the individual complies with congressional demands.” They can . also seek a civil judgement from a federal court declaring that Flynn is legally required to comply with the subpoena.
But what usually happens is that the Senate subcommittee writes up a Contempt of Congress resolution. A majority vote among the committee is required in order to move forward. From there, the contempt charge would be debated in the full Senate and would receive a vote. Things are then passed over to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, who would be the one to pursue a case. The current U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia is Channing D. Phillips.
According to 2 U.S. Code § 192, being found in contempt of Congress is to result in “a fine of not more than $1,000 nor less than $100 and imprisonment in a common jail for not less than one month nor more than twelve months.”
However, in reality, the Department of Justice may or may not pursue charges. Recently, in 2012, Eric Holder was found in contempt of Congress, with this resolution passing both a committee and the full chamber. However, the Obama Administration’s Department of Justice cited executive privilege and did not pursue a case against Holder.
Similarly, in 1982, EPA Administrator Anne Gorsuch was held in contempt of Congress, but the Reagan administration did not prosecute a case against her.
In May 2014, Lois Lerner was found to be in contempt of Congress when she would not testify before a committee. A contempt of Congress resolution passed in the House of Representatives, but the United States attorney for the District of Columbia subsequently said that no charges against Lerner would be pursued.
In 2016, Bryan Pagliano, the Hillary Clinton aide who helped set up her private email server, refused to testify before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The committee found him in contempt of Congress in a vote, but this did not end up being voted on by the full House. In February 2017, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz urged the Department of Justice to pursue charges against Pagliano, but no such charges have come.