January 6 investigators are talking about criminal contempt charges for ignored subpoenas. Here's what that means.
Washington (CNN) Members of the House select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the US Capitol have floated the idea of seeking a referral for criminal contempt as the next step for anyone who defies a subpoena from the panel.
Here's what criminal contempt is and how it compares with civil and inherent contempt:Criminal contemptTo pursue criminal contempt charges, Congress would vote on criminal contempt, then make a referral to the executive branch -- headed by the president -- to try to get the person criminally prosecuted.
A jail sentence of a month or more is possible if a witness won't comply, under the law.
It's unclear how quickly this route would move, and how the Biden Justice Department would respond to a contempt referral from the Democrats in the House.
The process would leave it up to Attorney General Merrick Garland to decide on involving the Justice Department in pursuing charges, putting the department in the middle of what many Republicans view as a partisan effort.
But Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, one of two Republicans on the panel , told CNN that "the committee is completely in solidarity" on the decision to move quickly on pursuing criminal contempt charges for those who evade subpoena deadlines.
They will have the opportunity to come in and work with us as they should," Cheney said.
"If they fail to do so, then we'll enforce our subpoenas."
Civil contemptUnlike with criminal contempt, civil contempt would see Congress ask the judicial branch to enforce a congressional subpoena.
In other words, Congress would seek a federal court's civil judgment saying the person is legally obligated to comply with the subpoena.
Some, like a House subpoena for Trump's IRS returns , still linger before a trial judge.
Inherent contemptThe third option the panel could use to enforce its subpoenas would be inherent contempt, which involves telling the House or Senate sergeant-at-arms to detain or imprison the person in contempt until he or she honors congressional demands.