In reading a recent article that suggested Steve Bannon might be found in "contempt of congress", I realized that there's no information on what the penalty for that might be, unlike the statutorily defined penalties for contempt of court.

Further searches on the matter only seem to confuse the issue, with most sources saying nothing about the legal penalties, and others alternating saying it's a federal misdemeanor, or it amounts to nothing.

So what are the potential legal consequences for being found in contempt of [US federal] congress?

2 Answers 2


Specifically, if a committee votes to cite someone for contempt of the committee, a resolution would pass to the full chamber. The full chamber, House or Senate, then may or may not pass it. If the full chamber passes the resolution, there is more than one option with which to enforce it.

Although it has not been used since the early part of the last century, a chamber may on its own send its Sergeant-at-Arms to arrest the individual found in contempt.

To go the route of criminal prosecution, the matter would be referred specifically to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia who has the "duty" to refer the matter to a grand jury. That said, because there are disagreements over executive power (namely the proponents of a "unitary executive theory" arguing that compelling the U.S. Attorney to hold someone in contempts amounts to compelling the President himself to do something which would be a violation of the separation of powers) that "duty" is not always upheld.

Finally, the Senate Legal Counsel may be directed to file a civil action against an individual found in contempt. The federal district court, upon motion by the Senate, would issue another order directing the individual to comply with the Senate. If nothing happens, then the person may be found to be held in contempt of court.


2 USC 192 imposes a penalty of $100-$1000 and 1-12 months in prison. That assumes a trial and conviction. Officials were found in contempt under the previous administration, but there was no criminal prosecution (DOJ would have to prosecute, which they declined to do).

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