I keep seeing in the news that, at the president's order, people are ignoring subpoenas from the house of representatives, citing executive privilege. So what legal bite does the president have if someone ignores his directive/order to not cooperate with the house; i.e., what can a president do legally, (Fine, Jail etc.) if he says they cannot testify and they do.

  • Can you name the people who are citing executive privilege as rationale to "ignore" a lawful subpoena? Can you locate a presidential order that instructs these people to "ignore" lawful subpoena by presidential assertion of executive privilege?
    – BobE
    Dec 23, 2019 at 15:20
  • Migrated to Law Stack Exchange by request of the author.
    – Philipp
    Dec 27, 2019 at 22:24
  • Based on the pre-supplied answers, it's clear that it is really unclear what the question is asking. "Legal bite" is meaningless in the law. Are you asking whether some unspecified party could prosecute / sue a person for disobeying a presidential directive, or are you asking what retribution POTUS might legally take? This needs to be clarified.
    – user6726
    Dec 28, 2019 at 0:05
  • @user6726 "Are you asking whether some unspecified party could prosecute / sue a person for disobeying a presidential", Yes exactly.
    – Jon
    Dec 28, 2019 at 13:16

2 Answers 2


There are NO LEGAL consequences for obedience to a LEGAL subpoena.

Digging a bit further, a subpeona is considered legal if issued by an authorized (person/committee/court/ etc). It is Legal on it's face. A judicial review to consider quashing (suspending or eliminating or considering the subpoena ineffective) must be requested by the subject of the subpoena.

However, in the current clime, there are repercussions for defying "the boss". Defying Trump may cost you your current job, however that would not necessarily mean that your future employment with the Federal government would be lost.

  • I've downloaded this answer for not addressing the claims of Executive Privilege. Dec 23, 2019 at 2:45
  • 1
    @DrunkCynic As far as I can tell the letter from Pat Cipoilone to Schiff et al, does not assert executive privilege. Nor have I seen any witness or potential claim that the President has instructed anyone to assert executive privilege. Reporters are free to anticipate that executive privilege may be asserted, but at this point the "claims" are those of reporters, but they can not point to any evidence of actual assertion of the privilege. consequently I chose not to address the speculations of reporters. (If you can find actual evidence of an assertion of privilege, I'm all in for that info!
    – BobE
    Dec 23, 2019 at 20:52

There are no legal consequences if someone obeys a subpoena in defiance of orders. In fact there are potential legal consequences if they ignore the subpoena. Technically the people refusing to obey subpoenas (assuming the subpoenas are found valid in the inevitable court battles), even if the were ordered to refuse, can be charged with contempt and potentially thrown in jail.

The repercussions if they obey the subpoena are the usual ones you face if you disobey your employer - you can be fired and never hired by your employer again. And since there is only one Federal government, that effectively means the end of your career. And since you would incur the displeasure of the the President, other career opportunities might well be closed to you as well.

  • 3
    I've downvoted this answer for how it's detailed the consequences for those refusing to obey the subpoenas. Until the merits of the subpoenas are validated through the judiciary, those declining to appear aren't at risk of suffering contempt charges or confinement. Dec 21, 2019 at 16:59
  • A bit nitpicky, but I've added a sentence to explain that. Dec 21, 2019 at 17:03
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    @Drunk Cynic - I'd suggest that a subpoena, issued by an party entitled to issue a subpoena, is valid on it's face. The recipient of a subpoena has the prerogative to challenge the validity of said subpoena to the judicial branch, but failing to challenge doesn't alter the validity.
    – BobE
    Dec 23, 2019 at 5:08

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