Can you RSVP No to a Subpoena from Congress

The beautiful couple blended in perfectly with the scene: Glamorous clothes and jewelry, perfect smile and chic hairstyle, a deferential bow. Only one thing was missing: No tickets.

The recent stir over the Salahis' stunts didn't do any harm except to the reputation of the security personnel charged with keeping uninvited guests away.

White House's Uninvited Guests Are Discovered

Many questions are still unanswered: How could a couple make their way into a White House party without tickets? Who finally discovered they weren't supposed to be there, and how? The couple has claimed that they were invited to the dinner, but the White House staff is silent about the details.

However, both camps were vocal about refusing to attend a House Homeland Security Committee hearing on December 3, 2009.

Separation of Powers

The White House explained the decision not to attend the House hearing focused on separation of powers concerns. Separation of powers is a critical part of our government's system. The three branches of government - executive, legislative and judicial - aren't allowed to impose on each other's authority and power. An example is the legislature creates and passes laws, and the judicial branch interprets and applies them.

Senior White House advisor Valerie Jarrett says the White House feels the staff addressed the situation internally, and shouldn't be questioned by Congress. Ms. Jarrett stresses the President Obama's view transparency in government. The White House has provided the public with free and open messages about the incident resulting in the internal review posted on its web site.

The Importance of Subpoena Power

The House Homeland Security Committee Chair said the Salahis would be forced to appear before Congress under a subpoena because they didn't attend the Committee's hearing on December 3. He also spoke of possible plans to subpoena the White House social secretary who didn't attend the December 3 meeting upon instructions from the White House.

subpoena is a legal document which is prepared and issued by court officials, attorneys or other entities such as the US Congress. A subpoena must clearly and plainly state where and when to appear and the possible penalties for failure to appear.

If you receive a valid subpoena and refuse to appear, you could be found guilty of contempt. Failing to produce a document required by a subpoena could also result in contempt. You could be fined or ordered to appear in court to explain why. If you're found guilty of criminal contempt, the penalties could include jail time.

Do not ignore a subpoena. Serious penalties could be imposed if the subpoena is valid and it was properly served. If you've received a subpoena, and you're unsure if you should comply with it, seek the advice of a lawyer who can determine if it's valid.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • I received a Congressional subpoena. May I ignore it and refuse to testify?
  • Does the President have to testify before Congress?
  • What is a subpoena?
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