Representative John Garamendi argued Wednesday that Congress should start jailing officials from President Donald Trump’s administration who do not cooperate with the ongoing impeachment inquiry.
“With regard for inherent contempt, I’ve been for that all along,” Garemendi, a Democrat who represents California’s 3rd District, said in an interview with CNN. “I think that if they come and they simply refuse to answer questions, I think it’s time to call in the sergeant at arms, march them off to a little jail, which we do happen to have in one of the rooms of the Capitol,” the congressman threatened.
CNN anchor Poppy Harlow followed up on Garemendi’s warning, asking if he thinks Attorney General William Barr, former White House lawyer Don McGahn and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland should be placed in jail. The lawmaker responded by suggesting that was exactly what he meant.
“I would use the full power–and among that is this question of inherent rights of the Congress to hold people,” he said. “I think we ought to be prepared to go all out on this.”
The White House on Tuesday evening sent a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, and other Democratic leaders stating that it would not comply with the impeachment inquiry spurred by revelations regarding Trump’s actions towards Ukraine. “In order to fulfill his duties to the American people, the Constitution, the executive branch and all future occupants of the office of the presidency, President Trump and his administration cannot participate in your partisan and unconstitutional inquiry under these circumstances,” the letter, signed by White House lawyer Pat Cipollone, said.
Trump had also ordered the State Department to block Sondland from testifying before Congressional committees investigating the president, despite the diplomat expressing his willingness to appear on Tuesday. Democrats have argued that the president’s actions are yet another example of “obstruction of justice.”
As Garmendi pointed out, Congress does have a long unused power to exercise its Constitutional authority and jail individuals who defy its oversight responsibility. However, while legislative committee leaders have often announced that they are formally declaring those who do not cooperate as being “held in contempt,” they have not in recent times actually detained those who refuse to cooperate or defy subpoenas.
However, the idea that a small jail still exists within the Capitol is a myth. It’s unclear where exactly officials could be held if Democratic leaders decided to exercise their long dormant power.
“I went to the Architect of the Capitol and found out where the old Capitol jail was located. There was at one time a jail here in the Capitol where the Congress could imprison citizens who refused to comply with its subpoenas,” Senate counsel Chuck Ludlam said, according to Roll Call.
The issue of jailing Trump administration officials was raised earlier this year in regards to committee investigations connected to special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. In May, Pelosi acknowledged that Congress had the ability to jail uncooperative witnesses and officials, but she suggested it wasn’t something that she was interested in pursuing.
“If we were arresting all of the people in the administration, we would have an overcrowded jail situation,” the Speaker of the House said in May. “And I’m not for that.”