WASHINGTON—Executive branch officials who interfere with colleagues cooperating with the impeachment inquiry could face the prospect of lost paychecks, if House Democrats impose an obscure provision that is routinely included in federal spending bills.
The provision, under section 713 of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, stipulates that no federal funds can be used to pay “any officer or employee of the federal government, who … prohibits or prevents, or attempts or threatens to prohibit or prevent, any other officer or employee of the federal government from having any direct oral or written communication or contact with any member, committee, or subcommittee of the Congress.”
The process under the provision begins when Congress asks the General Accounting Office (GAO) to review a situation and decide whether the circumstances and actions of those involved justify withholding salary and for what period of time.
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), who is a member of the House Committee on Appropriations, reportedly invoked the provision in an Oct. 8 letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo protesting the blocking of U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland from appearing before the House Select Committee on Intelligence, in connection with the impeachment inquiry.
Shortly after sending the letter, Pocan wrote on Twitter that House Democrats “refuse to bankroll this administration while they hold witnesses hostage. Sondland must testify on Ukraine.”
Democratic campaign strategists cheered the threat in interviews on Oct. 22 with The Epoch Times.
“This move would once again show extreme restraint on the part of House Democrats,” said Christian Hanley of Defiance Strategies and host of the “Keep It in Perspective” podcast. “Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution gives the House of Representatives the sole power of impeachment. Virtually any other American who obstructed a lawful investigation at work would not only lose their paycheck but face criminal prosecution as well.”
Similarly, Spencer Critchley, managing partner of the California-based Boots Road Group, said he believes “most Americans would agree that if someone refuses to do their job, they shouldnt be paid for it. Looking at the law, its clear: These federal employees need to respond to Congress or risk forfeiture of their pay.”
Critchley said: “This isnt some obscure, forgotten measure dredged up from the past. It was re-upped by Republicans in 1998 and reauthorized by President Trump this year.
“The politics are right for congressional Democrats, too: They need to show they can fight for what they believe in. Thats especially important now, since theyre fighting for what we all presumably believe in, the Constitution.”
But The Epoch Times was also told invoking Section 713 is complicated, because of the appropriations process.
“Congress does have the power to withhold pay, but they would have to do so in an appropriations bill that would have to pass the Senate and get signed into law by the President,” Liberty Government Affairs founder Brian Darling said.
“The law that House Democrats are trying to use to withhold pay will not work, because the Trump administration would be the implementing authority to withhold pay to themselves.”
Darling, who is a former senior adviser to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), said “this will be yet another court battle,” because House Democrats know the Trump administration wont cooperate, so “this seems like an empty threat that further exposes the limitations of the Congress in forcing executive branch officials to testify, because our founders intended to have a separation of powers between those two branches of government.”