So a congressional committee just voted to subpoena you. Now what?

How the congressional subpoena process plays out.

By Dan McDermott
Warren County Report

At 2 pm today the House Homeland Security Committee will meet to consider issuing subpoenas for Tareq and Michaele Salahi.

So what’s next?

According to a former congressional investigator who spoke on the condition he not be named, here is what happens:

– The subpoenas are written up by the counsel for the committee and available for the members of the committee to review prior to the vote.

– The committee will vote on two resolutions authorizing the issuance of a subpoena ad testificandum for each of the Salahis.

– Some committees require the full committee to vote on subpoenas and others allow the chairman to issue them without a vote. In this case, the committee, comprised of 21 Democrats and 13 Republicans will vote.

Assuming the resolutions pass:

– Presumably after the meeting, Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson of Mississippi will physically sign each subpoena. There may be several copies since different delivery methods may be used.

The softball delivery:

– The counsel for the committee will deliver or have delivered the subpoenas to the Salahi’s law firm, Dewey & LeBoeuf of New York and/or the Salahi’s home in Linden, VA.

The hardball method:

– If the law firm can’t guarantee that the Salahis appear and the Salahis don’t answer their door, the committee counsel will turn the subpoenas over to the U.S. Marshals Service. Then they hunt the Salahis down.

What if they don’t show up?

– The Salahis have to appear at a hearing on the date specified on the subpoenas. If they don’t show up then the committee can turn the matter over to the full house who can vote on whether the Salahis are in contempt of congress. This is a big hurdle to climb. If the House votes to cite them for contempt, the U.S. Attorney would prosecute and the Salahis could be jailed for up to a year.

What if they do show up?

– The Salahis have indicated through their attorneys that they will exercise their constitutional 5th Amendment rights against self-incrimination and not answer questions.

– They still have to appear and sit their while each committee member asks presumably long TV-friendly statement-questions. They can reassert their 5th Amendment rights each time and the committee members can express shock and disgust each time for the cameras. Rephrased question, refusal to answer, feigned incredulity, repeat.

– If the Salahis refuse to answer simple questions like “How old are you” then the committee could technically try to vote on a contempt charge and send it to the House but no one thinks this is likely.

What about immunity?

– The Salahis could be granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for their testimony. This is doubtful and rare.

Other options:

– A subpoena is one step in the negotiation process for the committee to get information. After it is delivered, the Salahis may be eager to compromise to avoid having to repeatedly refuse to answer questions on national television. The lawyers for the committee and the Salahis could get together and discuss what the committee really wants. At any time the subpoenas could be withdrawn if the committee is satisfied with what it has heard or what arrangements have been made. Some possibilities are a closed door deposition, a transcribed interview with committee staff or perhaps a written statement or affidavit in lieu of testimony.

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Dan McDermott:


  1. Karl Rove never showed up when Congress subpoenaed him regarding a much more significant issue—Rove’s role in the prosecution of Alabama Democratic Governor Don Seigleman. And nothing ever happened to him.

  2. Nice story you got here. It would be great to read something more concerning that topic. The only thing I would like to see on that blog is some pictures of some gizmos.

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