WASHINGTON, Sept. 22 (UPI) — A House committee voted Thursday to hold Hillary Clinton‘s former IT aide in contempt of Congress for ignoring a subpoena compelling him to testify about her use of a private email server while secretary of state.
A lawyer for the aide, Bryan Pagliano, said his client was defending his right not to appear because the committee was informed ahead of time Pagliano will assert his Fifth Amendment rights at the hearing and the only purpose otherwise for his appearance, according to the ranking Democrat on the committee, is a Republican “photo-op.”
House Government Reform and Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said during a hearing Thursday that congressional subpoenas cannot simply be ignored because the subject does not like the topic.
“Subpoenas are not optional,” Chaffetz said. “Mr. Pagliano is a crucial fact witness in this committee’s investigation …”
Pagliano has testified before a Republican-led investigation into Clinton’s email before, when the House Select Committee on Benghazi first uncovered the server’s existence. Pagliano appeared before a closed-door meeting with the committee, where he pleaded the Fifth.
Pagliano’s attorney offered to have his client appear again in private with the House oversight panel, but Chaffetz declined, saying he believed the hearing should be held in public.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the committee’s ranking Democrat, accused Chaffetz of using subpoena power to compel an appearance solely for political gain, in an attempt to remind voters in November’s election of Clinton’s email scandal.
“Republicans want a photo op. They want a ready-made campaign commercial. No matter what anyone says, that is not a legitimate legislative purpose,” Cummings said.
The committee voted to approve the citation along party lines.
Pagliano’s attorney, Mark MacDougall, said his client has a right to defend himself against a blatantly partisan effort to infringe on his constitutional right against self-incrimination.
“Mr. Pagliano is defending a critical principal [sic] of individual liberty and the constitutional right of a private citizen to resist partisan political forces masquerading as proper government functions,” MacDougall wrote in a letter to the committee, explaining his client’s absence at a hearing two weeks ago.
A congressional committee alone cannot hold someone in contempt of Congress. Such an act requires a full vote of the chamber and Politico reported it was unclear whether the House would schedule a vote on the contempt citation before its planned pre-election recess.
Congress has three ways to enforce a subpoena: It can file a civil suit against the individual, pass a resolution asking a federal prosecutor to hold the individual in contempt or order the individual imprisoned in the Capitol jail until the matter is resolved.
Either of the first two options would likely result in a protracted court fight and Congress hasn’t actually ordered someone jailed at the Capitol in more than a century, leading Democrats to question what practical effect the contempt citation will have.
“I don’t think it’s going anywhere, and I take comfort in that fact,” said Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass.
Republicans insisted the matter was not a political ploy, but a fight over the separation of powers and congressional authority.
“We cannot have people come here and deny the right under the Constitution for us to question them. They may not want to answer and they have that right under the Constitution,” Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., said. “If you continue that, you destroy the whole basis of our government.”