Recently, the White House announced that it would not cooperate with the congressional impeachment inquiry and in a letter to Democratic House leaders, called it an illegitimate effort “to overturn the results of the 2016 election.” According to White House counsel Pat A. Cipollone, the White House considers the impeachment inquiry illegitimate because the House never formally voted for it. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced during a press conference that the House would open a formal impeachment inquiry, and that was that.
Dan Urman, a scholar of Constitutional Law at the Northeastern University says that it is true that the decision is unprecedented but that doesn’t make it illegal. The Constitution doesn’t require that the full House pass a resolution before the House committees start gathering evidence. In fact, the Constitution has very little legal framework for impeachment, which leaves plenty of room for interpretation. The reason as to why there is very little guidance in the country’s founding document on one of the most serious political procedures, is that the Constitution framers didn’t anticipate the country would be so deeply divided by its party politics.
“I’m suggesting that the founders thought that Americans would be best protected by a separation of powers. Ultimately, what we have now is a separation of parties, not of powers”, Urman said.
When someone defies a Congressional subpoena, Congress has three options for recourse. They have an “inherent power”, which gives it the authority to use the Sergeant at Arms of the US House of Representatives to hold and imprison someone who’s in contempt of Congress until that person complies. Secondly, members of Congress can make a criminal contempt case to the Department of Justice. The problem with this option for Democrats who want to push ahead with the inquiry is that the Department of Justice can report to the president and can show that it’s on the same page as the president when it comes to this inquiry. The third is that Congress sends the case to the federal court system for resolution. Urman thinks this is the most likely option.
Shahjadi Jemim Rahman