I am seeing quite a few articles about subpoenas and the Trump Organization/White House deciding to not cooperate.

I read online that

"As far as the subpoenas go they’re not actually subpoenas. They’re just requests. If you refuse a subpoena it goes to a court. If you refuse a request they get to shout that Trump's not cooperating. It’s a tactic for optics not a legitimate inquiry to find the truth."

This was from Ben Shapiro's podcast Episode 871 - "Impeach for what?"


Is this true? Are they not actually "subpoenas" and just regular requests that the White House can deny to corporate with?

  • 4
    I'm sorry but random comments online aren't considered notable here. If you can find us the source of the quote, and if that source is notable, we'll allow the question, but as of right now this is not suitable. Not voting to close yet but please add the source of your claim, not the CNN article.
    – DenisS
    Oct 9 '19 at 18:30
  • However, to give you a partial answer, Contempt of Congress is a thing.
    – DenisS
    Oct 9 '19 at 18:30
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    They have issued subpoenas and made requests, depending on exactly who you're talking about and on what precise issue. Any way to be more specific?
    – Is Begot
    Oct 9 '19 at 18:46
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    OK, now that we know that this was from Shapiro from 10/2, it's still hard to answer this question. They 100% are allowed to issue subpoenas, I'm not sure why Shapiro thinks these aren't legitimate. Originally I thought this was about Gordon Sondland, who was asked to testify before being blocked by the State Department. He was subpoena-ed (subpoenaed? subpoenad?) late last night. This might be better for Politics anyway.
    – DenisS
    Oct 9 '19 at 19:10
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    Questions about unresolved current events and issues currently under investigation by a court of law, government, or other similar investigative body are off-topic because there is insufficient data for a meaningful answer. Oct 9 '19 at 21:44

EDIT: after listening to the podcast linked by OP, Mr. Shapiro never says the words claimed by OP, and never says that the subpoenas are illegitimate. It is possible that he linked to the wrong podcast, or it was a comment on the video itself. I've made edits to my answer to reflect this information.

Congress has the power to issue subpoenas and has issued multiple subpoenas to members of the Trump Executive Branch, as well as his personal lawyer.

Failure to comply with a subpoena is considered Contempt of Congress.

Contempt of Congress is the act of obstructing the work of the United States Congress or one of its committees. Historically, the bribery of a U.S. Senator or U.S. Representative was considered contempt of Congress. In modern times, contempt of Congress has generally applied to the refusal to comply with a subpoena issued by a Congressional committee or subcommittee—usually seeking to compel either testimony or the production of requested documents.

Both houses of Congress have the ability to issue subpoenas, and all standing committees are allowed to also issue subpoenas.

Congressional rules empower all its standing committees with the authority to compel witnesses to produce testimony and documents for subjects under its jurisdiction. Committee rules may provide for the full committee to issue a subpoena, or permit subcommittees or the chairman (acting alone or with the ranking member) to issue subpoenas.

A list of standing committees can be found here. Of note, the following committees are considered standing committees.

By contrast, the United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is not considered a standing committee, but is instead a "permanent select" committee. However, it appears that the Intelligence Committee is allowed to issue subpoenas, as former chairman Rep. Devin Nunes issued multiple subpoenas in 2017 and 2018 while he was chairman.

From CNN, in 2017

The anger behind the scenes was reignited when Nunes signed off on four subpoenas sent by House Russia investigators to former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Trump lawyer Michael Cohen -- and also issued three subpoenas on his own, seeking information from former Obama administration officials.

From lawfareblog.com, regarding 2018

In April of 2018, Nunes threatened to hold FBI Director Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in contempt and start impeachment proceedings because for more than seven months, Wray and Rosenstein had failed to fulfill Nunes’s request for an unredacted copy of a two-page memo the FBI used to initiate its investigation of the Trump campaign’s Russia contacts.

From USA Today on 9 October 2019, here is a list of all subpoenas issued with regards to the Ukraine investigation.

  • European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland (Oct. 8)
  • Defense Secretary Mark Esper/The Pentagon (Oct. 7)
  • Acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought (Oct. 7)
  • Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney/The White House (Oct. 4)
  • Vice President Mike Pence (Oct. 4)
  • Rudy Giuliani (Sept. 30)
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (Sept. 27)

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    I don't think this actually addresses the claim that these are "legitimate" or "illegitimate" subpoenas; it's a valuable discussion of subpoena power in general sure but IMHO a reasonable person who is not well versed in congressional workings could read this response and still be no closer to knowing rather the "subpoenas" in question fall under the category of the subpoena power elaborated on in this answer. Are all things called subpoenas in the media actually subpoenas? Is the phrase "legitimate subpoena" simply BS by Shapiro? Oct 15 '19 at 21:39
  • @VivaLebowski that's what I'm trying to get at with the answer. Shapiro never elaborates on why he thinks they are illegitimate. He could have a valid reason, or it could be partisan hackery. The point I guess I'm trying to make with my answer is that subcommittees do have the power to issue subpoenas. The Judicary and Oversight both have de jure powers to issue subpoenas, whereas the Inteligence has de facto powers (which is why I included the actions of Rep. Nunez from 2017/18 in the answer.)
    – DenisS
    Oct 15 '19 at 22:35
  • "He could have a valid reason, or it could be partisan hackery. " But that is the question, not "do subcommittees have the power to issue subpoenas". Shapiro might never have elaborated on what he meant by legitimate so you can argue you have no reasoning on his part to support or contradict...fair enough... but there is no attempt to look at the way the word subpoena has historically been used to say "No, subpoena historically means SUBPOENA and these are subpoena's of equal standing with others" or (per Dunk's answer below) "These are "subpoenas" of a different kind from others." Oct 16 '19 at 13:30
  • I know that sounds like very semantic nit picking, but I think the answer could be improved by unequivocally stating that Shapiro does not provide any reasoning and then citing some form of historical record to back up the conclusion that "Yes these are legitimate subpoenas" since that is the implication you are making. Simply saying that committee's have subpoena power and these are examples of that power being used without addressing rather these are in-fact subpoena's of equal standing with all others is a non-answer, even if the info is useful. Oct 16 '19 at 13:34
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    @VivaLebowski please see the new edit. I listened to the entire podcast and Shapiro never said the words quoted by OP. Assuming that this was a comment on the podcast and not a statement by Shapiro himself. Shapiro never seems to question the subpoenas as legitimate. Until new information is provided by OP, it is now impossible to learn any more context than what was provided.
    – DenisS
    Oct 18 '19 at 17:23

Per house rules, yes the house can issue subpoenas directly from committees.


(m)(1) For the purpose of carrying out any of its functions and duties under this rule and rule X (including any matters referred to it under clause 2 of rule XII), a committee or subcommittee is authorized (subject to subparagraph (3)(A))—

This specifies 'for the purpose of carrying out any of its functions and duties' and is referring specifically to committees and subcommittees. There is NO committee or subcommittee whose functions or duties is to perform impeachment proceedings. That function is given to congress. Thus, without congressional approval, the validity of subpoenas issued by the committees is questionable.

(C) Compliance with a subpoena issued by a committee or subcommittee under subparagraph (1)(B) may be enforced only as authorized or directed by the House.

Even if impeachment related subpoenas issued by the committees are valid, the subcommittees do not have the power to enforce the subpoenas. Only the house has that power. Thus, the house will have to vote in order to enforce the subpoenas.

  • As with the above answer, I think this is kind of beating around the bush in terms of addressing the core question are these "legitimate" subpoena's or no? It would also be interesting to explain the reasoning here by reference to historical events in the Nixon or Johnson presidencies...that said, I think the information here is definitely useful so I don't understand the -1's. Oct 15 '19 at 21:45
  • @VivaLebowski - Anything remotely hinting as supporting a Trump position gets downvoted all the time. Meanwhile, as your comment states, the poster didn't even answer the question but got a lot of upvotes (anti-Trump). That's par for the course around here. I think I was clear and this is what Shapiro is referring to, the subpoena's are legitimate if they were issued as part of the committees normal functions and duties. Because these subpoenas are for impeachment proceedings then they aren't legitimate because no impeachment has begun. Even if legitimate, they aren't enforceable.
    – Dunk
    Oct 15 '19 at 22:19
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    I'm not one of the downvoters, but I can see two reasons why you're receiving downvotes. 1. You posted an entirely unreferenced answer, with no links backing up your claim. You'd probably avoid downvotes if you provided links to where you were getting your quotes from. 2. Your entire argument is "there is no committee on impeachment, therefore you can't subpoena. Oversight, Judiciary, and Intelligence all have their hands in this investigation. If the committee on Agriculture was issuing subpoenas, for instance, you'd have a point.
    – DenisS
    Oct 15 '19 at 22:44
  • @Dunk Your core argument seems to be that these "impeachment subpoena's" are outside of the scope of the committees normal roles so they are not enforceable like normal subpoenas until they receive support from the whole house, which is intriguing. I partially agree with DenisS however that this could use more supporting information...is there a historical precedent for these kind of subpoenas? Relevant court decisions that make this decision between non-enforceable subpoenas and legitimate enforceable subpoenas? Oct 16 '19 at 13:42
  • @DenisS "Entire unreferenced" is not fair here; the quotes, as clearly stated, are from the house rules. Googling "house rules of US congress" returns a page containing the above quotes as the first result; for convenience the answer could include direct links but that's beside the point...this is publicly and easily accessible information. Oct 16 '19 at 13:49

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