It depends on who you talk to. Right now, Democrats in the House of Representatives are acting like they have supernatural powers over everything and everybody — especially over this presidential administration and all its members. Since taking control of the House, Democrats heads of multiple committees have hire dozens of added investigatory attorneys for one reason and one only: they are hell-bent on attacking the Trump Administration and everyone in it. Why? One would think doing so would be the result of serious criminal wrongdoing and an effort to find those guilty parties and bring them to justice. But in this case the massive investigations that have already begin at the hands of Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Congressman Jerold Nadler (D-NY) who have assumed the joint roles of “Investigators in Chief.” What are they investigating? Which crime are they investigating? All things Trump are the subject of investigations but there’s NO crime. Their hope is simple: they go to bed every night and get up every morning praying that they find something sufficient to run Donald Trump out of D.C.
Robert Mueller’s investigation was the one thing all these Democrats and their minions just knew would bring their quest to dump Trump to fruition. And when Mueller’s findings apparently proved Dems were wrong, many thought the battle was over. But it has just begun.
81 members of the Trump team have already been subpoenaed for personal appearances along with voluminous production of documents, many of which were already turned over to the Mueller investigators. For these 81 people, answering these subpoenas could easily be the beginning of the end of their personal and professional lives. Certainly, retaining legal representation sufficient to defend them throughout these Congressional probes will be devastating. Just look at General Michael Flynn. His defense cost him is home, all of his savings, and almost cost his son jail time. It is estimated the minimum cost of representation in these cases is $500,000 to $800,000! Not many people have that kind of “extra” money laying around.
Can Congress Legally Take Such Action?
Yes, Congress can. But what has come into question is the legality Congress does or not have in these investigations. And, believe it or not, The U.S. Supreme Court has weigh-in in previous cases that are similar in nature to what is unfolding now.
The principle target of Congress of course is Donald Trump. Word has it they are going after the President for potential wrongdoing on his part and of those who have worked for him for things from before he even campaigned for President! One would think any of that would have nothing to do with any liability for any president. This just illustrates how desperate Democrats in the House are to discredit the President and to get him ousted at all costs.
Can Congress take this approach? What do those people already under Congressional subpoena have to do? Can they thumb their noses at Congress? What happens if they ignore Congressional subpoena and simply refuse to appear and refuse to provide requested documents? The SCOTUS has a few things to say about that.
Watkins v. United States, 354 U.S. 178 (1957), is a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States that held that the power of the United States Congress is not unlimited in conducting investigations and that nothing in the US Constitution gives it the authority to expose individuals’ private affairs.
John Thomas Watkins, a labor union official from Rock Island, Illinois, was convicted of contempt of Congress, a misdemeanor under 2 U.S.C. § 192, for failing to answer questions posed by members of Congress during a hearing held by a subcommittee of the House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities on April 29, 1954. Watkins was born in July 1910 and ended his formal education in the eighth grade. At the time of his testimony, he had four children and was working on behalf of the United Auto Workers (UAW) to unionize workers at a division of Firestone Tire and Rubber in Illinois. The UAW underwrote his legal expenses. Watkins was asked to name people he knew to be members of the Communist Party. Watkins told the subcommittee that he did not wish to answer such questions and that they were outside the scope of the subjects on which he was summoned to testify and of the committee’s jurisdiction. He said: “I am not going to plead the fifth amendment, but I refuse to answer certain questions that I believe are outside the proper scope of your committee’s activities. I will answer any questions which this committee puts to me about myself. I will also answer questions about those persons whom I knew to be members of the Communist Party and whom I believe still are. I will not, however, answer any questions with respect to others with whom I associated in the past. I do not believe that any law in this country requires me to testify about persons who may in the past have been Communist Party members or otherwise engaged in Communist Party activity but who to my best knowledge and belief have long since removed themselves from the Communist movement.
“I do not believe that such questions are relevant to the work of this committee nor do I believe that this committee has the right to undertake the public exposure of persons because of their past activities. I may be wrong, and the committee may have this power, but until and unless a court of law so holds and directs me to answer, I most firmly refuse to discuss the political activities of my past associates.”
His conviction carried a fine of $100 and a one-year suspended prison sentence. Watkins first won a 3–2 decision on appeal to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia but then lost, 6–2, when that court heard the case en banc. The Supreme Court heard arguments on March 7, 1957, and announced its decision on June 17, 1957.
The Supreme Court decided 6–1 to overturn Watkins’ conviction. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote for the majority. Warren noted that it is an offense for a witness to refuse to answer any question “pertinent to the question under inquiry” in testifying before a Congressional committee, but he wrote that the Court was unable to ascertain the nature of the Congressional inquiry with reasonable precision:
“There are several sources that can outline the ‘question under inquiry’ in such a way that the rules against vagueness are satisfied. The authorizing resolution, the remarks of the chairman or members of the committee, or even the nature of the proceedings themselves, might sometimes make the topic clear. This case demonstrates, however, that these sources often leave the matter in grave doubt.
The New York Times commented: “The Supreme Court has placed fundamental restrictions on a Congressional investigatory power that in recent years has been asserted as all but limitless.”
Senators James Eastland and William E. Jenner, who played principal roles in investigating left-wing activities, issued a statement accusing the Court of contributing to “the trend of the past year of undermining our existent barriers against Communist subversion.”
The decision’s impact was limited in that the Court limited the application of the principles it espoused in Watkins.
The power of Congress to hold hearings is an integral part of the powers of the legislative branch. Once a person is called to be a witness, Congress has contempt powers to compel him or her to answer questions. If the person refuses, then he or she can be held in contempt and sentenced to a fine or jail or both.
However, the power to hold a hearing comes from Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. This is the Necessary and Proper clause, which states that Congress has the power to do what is necessary and proper to carry out its function as a legislative power. Thus, the power to hold a hearing has to come from the authority to pass laws.
As a result, the scope of the inquiry must be related to the legislative authority of Congress, and any question must be related to that purpose. Further, the statute used to convict Watkins limited his punishment for failing to answer only questions that were pertinent to the question under inquiry.
Finally, the Supreme Court held in United States v. Rumely (1952) that the Bill of Rights is invoked upon any questioning of a witness, and in the face of such rights, Congress had to clearly define the nature of its inquiry and consider a balance of rights the same way it would if passing a law. Why? Because its authority to ask questions at a congressional hearing stems from its enumerated legislative powers, which always must consider the constitutional rights of those affected by the law.
Why is it that no one talks about the tax dollars Congress spends on these senseless investigations? Remember all the hoopla from Democrats and Republicans alike regarding any interference in the Mueller investigation by President Trump? Mueller was the savior of Washington and was empowered by God himself to bring President Trump down for his wrongdoing. Mueller screwed up. How? He did not provide House Democrats the ammunition they needed to draft Articles of Impeachment to throw Trump out of the White House. The “spend-o-meter” began spinning as U.S. tax dollars are being spent in the millions as Democrats have launched their “payback” prosecution of anyone who has ever even smiled at President Trump. American taxpayers are paying these millions not because of any wrongdoing. We are paying it because of one thing and one thing only: Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election an Hillary is not President.
What’s going on folks is NOT the power of the Congress. I suggest all of those subpoenaed so far and any who are subpoenaed going forward in unison send Congress packing.
The Rule of Law in America works this way: everyone — including private citizens as well as public servants — are innocent until PROVEN guilty, not just charged. Why should any of these people be forced to pay one dime for defense from any of these sham investigations? They shouldn’t.
Let’s make a deal: if I was one of these people, I would get a group of those others who have received these subpoenas together for a press conference. In it, I would publicly call out Adam Schiff, Jerold Nadler, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer, and tell them all not until they provide actual evidence of wrongdoing will any of these appear before Congress or provide any answers to their subpoenas. Doing so would be unnecessary and illegal according to findings in previous cases of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Further, I would publicly call them out for not pursuing actual investigations of the wrongdoers who have already been exposed during the Mueller investigation of felony violations of misuse of classified information and other federal crimes.
It’s time for every American to abide by the Rule of Law. And members of Congress are simply Americans. None of them — especially Democrat Party House committee leaders — are NOT above the law, no matter what they think.
Tell them all to pound sand.