When federal officials ignore subpoenas, imposing a fine is the legislative branch’s best hope of getting the information it needs.
The fight for control of information from the Russia investigation is heading into uncharted legal territory. The House Judiciary Committee has voted to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for his refusal to provide the committee with the full, unredacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report. Earlier this month, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff publicly signaled his intention to impose fines on the federal officials who refuse to comply with congressional subpoenas. “We’re looking through the history and studying the law to make sure we’re on solid ground,” the California Democrat said, revealing that he and his staff are aware that the move would be unorthodox and unconventional. Under these circumstances, the trepidations of the Democratic leadership are understandable. Yet the important thing is: Fining Barr would be legal—even if enforcing the fine could itself prove tricky.