While lawmakers have publicly stated that the committee is prepared to lay criminal charges against non-compliant witnesses, members are now making it clear that a referral to the Department of Justice will almost certainly come quickly if they don’t get to the level. cooperation they are looking for. looking for.
The move would leave it to Attorney General Merrick Garland to decide whether to involve the DOJ in the prosecution of the charges, placing the department in the middle of what many Republicans see as a partisan effort.
“I think we totally agree that if people refuse to answer questions refuse to produce documents without justification, we will hold them for criminal contempt and return them to the Department of Justice,” said the Minister of Justice. representing Adam Schiff, Democrat and California Committee. member, told CNN on Tuesday.
Representative Liz Cheney, one of the two Republican women on the panel, echoed the sentiment, telling CNN “the committee fully supports” the decision to move swiftly to prosecute criminal contempt charges for those who escape. the assignment deadlines.
“People will have the opportunity to cooperate, they will have the opportunity to come and work with us as they should,” Cheney said. “If they don’t, then we’ll apply our subpoenas.”
The committee’s plans could change based on the information the panel receives from those who choose to cooperate, but for now, members appear to have set themselves a course on the way forward.
Deadline until the chairman of the committee
Even as lawmakers on the committee are united in making criminal contempt the next step for anyone defying their subpoena, the exact moment when that next step is taken seems to belong to one person: Democratic Representative Bennie Thompson, chairman of the panel.
“I will defer these decisions to the President,” Schiff said on Tuesday when asked if the committee would wait until the Thursday and Friday filing deadlines expire before taking the next step against those who decide not to comply. to their assignment.
Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy told CNN the committee will move towards prosecution of criminal contempt “as soon as we are legally prepared to take that step” when asked what would happen if the committee did not. not hearing from people with deadlines set for the end of this week.
Raskin predicted: “I would expect the president to decide to immediately move on to criminal referrals” if Friday came and people had not appeared before the committee.
“We need to move this process forward. Obviously, we will have to pass it on to the Department of Justice so that they can operate with their prosecutorial discretion to decide what to do, but we see it as a matter of course. ‘a matter of the utmost importance and urgency for national security, and the integrity of democracy, “he added.
Until these deadlines have passed, committee members are trying to prepare. A source close to the committee’s schedule told CNN that the committee met Tuesday evening before the key week.
Thompson declined to comment on the possibility of criminal contempt, a spokesperson said.
Will Meadows and Patel show up for their depositions?
Cheney said the committee is ready to file depositions for Meadows and Patel, the two people the committee previously shared are widely engaged with them, though it remains to be seen whether they will eventually cooperate.
“We’ll see if they show up. If they show up, we’ll be ready,” Cheney said.
As to whether Meadows and Patel will appear before the committee for their depositions later this week, Murphy said, “I expect them to do the patriotic thing and appear before the committee, and if they haven’t. nothing to hide, there’s no reason they won’t show up. “
Murphy told reporters depositions for later this week are scheduled as a mix of physical and virtual people.
When asked if he believed all of the committee members would be in the room together for the depositions, Raskin said, “I don’t know we’ve gone that far,” but suggested it could happen if the correct Covid protocols were in place.
“But certainly the depositions I have been involved in in the past were like this,” Raskin added. “I mean, that’s how it was in the first impeachment trial”
Rally organizers are already cooperating
In addition to the committee’s first round of depositions scheduled for this week, 11 people linked to rallies that took place on January 6 before the attack on the U.S. Capitol also have a deadline to deliver documents on Wednesday. CNN has learned that up to 5 of those 11 people have already started sharing documents with the panel.
Two rally organizers suggested they would only engage with the committee in a public forum and how the rest of the group would react remains unclear.
Anticipating the challenge, Raskin issued a clear threat on Tuesday.
“The organizers of the January 6 rallies have 1 day to comply with the House subpoenas and hand over the relevant files,” Raskin tweeted. “Those who defy a congressional legal order to cover up insurgent violence will be subject to criminal prosecution, at the very least.”
Behind the scenes, the committee debated how quickly to respond to any legal threat and which option to enforce subpoenas would be most effective.
Schiff, who, along with Raskin, has publicly pushed for the idea of using criminal contempt to enforce subpoenas in recent days, suggested on Tuesday that it was now the committee’s main option to enforce subpoenas. if some witnesses did not comply.
While Schiff told CNN the committee was not ruling out any options, he made it clear that filing civil lawsuits may not be productive given that President Trump and his associates have used the courts as a delaying tactic.
“We are not for closing any options, but we have seen in the case of Don McGann and others, how witnesses or the former president could chain Congress for years. It has literally taken years to happen. oppose the deposition. We have no years. And so we will take the quickest route to get convincing answers to our subpoenas, “he said.
Schiff has also made it clear that the committee is committed to acting quickly, as he feels there are too many issues at stake.
“I mean, the president, the former president, the former president of the nine states is still pushing the big lie. The same big lie that led people to attack this building, to become cops and to putting our lives in danger. So yes, we do feel a sense of urgency. “
The two Republicans on the committee, Cheney and Representative Adam Kinzinger, whose involvement in the investigation carries significant political risks given Trump’s influence over the future of the Republican Party are also among those who have argued in favor. more aggressive approach and calling for criminal prosecution for those who defy subpoenas. .
Holding non-compliant witnesses for criminal contempt would require the Justice Department to agree to prosecute these individuals in federal court – a case that Attorney General Merrick Garland has yet to publicly weigh in or indicate if he would support.
“We hope the Justice Department understands both the importance and the urgency of the case,” Raskin told reporters Tuesday, referring to any criminal referral brought by the House.