COMPASS: Merrick Garland in Inherent Contempt of Congress

June 25th, 2024

Good afternoon from Capitol Hill. 

The Senate is in recess until July 8. The House is here this week, working through appropriations bills in the middle of a D.C. heat wave. The stated aim of House GOP leaders is to have all 12 appropriations bills out of the Appropriations Committee by mid-July, with consideration by the House completed in time for the August recess.

This week, the chamber is slated to consider the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and State-Foreign Operations funding bills on the floor. This funding cycle is already off to a better start than the last. For one, Speaker Mike Johnson and Appropriations Committee Chair Tom Cole are no longer honoring the side deals struck by former Speaker Kevin McCarthy with the White House. This has resulted in spending cuts to select bills.

Additionally, the base text of the bill – that is, the bills coming out of committee – contain GOP priority policies like funding for a wall at the southern border, cutting aid to the nonprofits which shepherd migrants across, as well as policies limiting the use of critical race theory and drag queen events in the military. Including these policies as part of the legislation itself, as opposed to making members offer those policies as amendments, is a prerogative of the majority that conservatives have long advocated their leadership wield to their advantage.

The rub in this process, however, is what comes next. The GOP House will have to negotiate these bills with the Democrat-led Senate. How hard will they fight to maintain these policies, and conversely, how much opposition will they put up to a Democrat-led effort to “Trump-proof” the appropriations bills, as Democrats have long stated as their goal?

For this reason, some conservatives have advocated scrapping the appropriations process for a short-term Continuing Resolution into early 2025. As a tactical matter, a CR would substantially lessen the opportunity for Democrats to tie the hands of a future GOP administration, and also give the incoming president a chance to shape the next set of funding bills to fit his priorities. All of this will continue to be hashed out in the coming months.

This week, however, in addition to votes on spending bills, Rep. Anna Paulina Luna has announced she intends to seek a vote to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in “inherent contempt” of Congress for his refusal to provide the audio of President Biden’s interview with special counsel Robert Hur related to his possession of classified documents. 

Earlier this month the House successfully passed a resolution to hold Garland in contempt of Congress for the same issue, only to have the Department of Justice ignore the criminal referral. (The DOJ has, however, acted on contempt referrals against Steve Bannon and Peter Navarro, both of whom were referred by the January 6th Select Committee. Navarro is currently serving four months of jail time, and Bannon has been sentenced to the same.)

By triggering an inherent contempt resolution, however, Rep. Luna is relying on the House’s own power to enforce contempt resolutions. If her resolution passes, it could force Garland to stand trial before the House of Representatives. If found guilty, he would be detained by the House Sergeant-at-Arms. Fox News has more on the history of inherent contempt, including Rep. Luna’s letter on the matter to her colleagues.

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