- Mark Wilson/Getty Images
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was asked Wednesday how Democrats would respond to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s refusal to give President Donald Trump’s tax returns to Congress.
- The Democrat said she favored fighting obstructive Trump officials in court rather than using congressional powers to jail them in the Capitol.
- “We do have a little jail down in the basement of the Capitol, but if we were arresting all of the people in the administration, we would have an overcrowded jail situation,” she said. “And I’m not for that.”
- The barred room under the Capitol is not actually a jail, but the Capitol Police does have the means to detain people elsewhere.
- Pelosi’s comments come amid an escalating struggle between congressional Democrats and the White House.
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday joked that so many of President Donald Trump’s aides were in contempt of Congress that there wasn’t enough room in the Capitol’s jail to hold them all.
Pelosi was asked at a Washington Post Live event how Democrats would respond to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s refusal Tuesday to hand over Trump’s tax records.
Mnuchin previously ignored a deadline set by the House Ways and Means Committee to provide six years of Trump’s tax returns.
The California Democrat told reporters that the committee’s chairman, Richard Neal, favored fighting administration officials who refuse their requests via the court system.
She said it was a better alternative to using congressional powers to detain those in contempt of its requests and jail them in the Capitol.
"Could you hold the Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin in contempt? Some Democrats have even raised the prospect of arresting the Treasury Secretary if he does not comply…"
Nancy Pelosi: "We do have a little jail down in the basement of the Capitol."
Via CSPAN pic.twitter.com/zjaAEgZQUH
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) May 8, 2019
“Could you hold the Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin in contempt?” the event host Robert Costa, a politics reporter for The Post, asked. “Some Democrats have even raised the prospect of arresting the Treasury secretary if he does not comply with congressional demands.”
Pelosi responded: “We do have a little jail down in the basement of the Capitol, but if we were arresting all of the people in the administration, we would have an overcrowded jail situation. And I’m not for that.”
Under a little-known law, upheld by the Supreme Court in 1821, Congress has the power to arrest and detain witnesses who refuse to comply with its requests.
Congress most recently jailed someone this way in 1934, when William MacCracken, an official in President Herbert Hoover’s administration, was tried and jailed by Congress for impeding a congressional investigation.
The idea that there is a jail under the Capitol, however, is a myth.
The building does house a barred crypt, intended as a tomb for George Washington, which is often mistaken for a jail cell.
The Capitol Police does have a holding cell, but it is in a different building.
Pelosi’s remarks came hours before the Democrat-led House Judiciary Committee voted to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for refusing to hand over the unredacted report by the special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The vote escalated the battle between the Trump administration and House Democrats seeking to wield their oversight powers and request testimony and information from administration officials.
Asked whether Congress would consider impeaching Barr if he refused to comply with their request, Pelosi would not rule it out.
“Nothing is ever off the table,” she told Costa.