According to a press release yesterday entitled “Bank Committee Chairs, Attorney General Issue Subpoenas for A.I.G. Employees”: “State Senator Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) and Representative Ryan Barry (D-Manchester), co-chairs of the General Assembly’s Banks Committee, with Attorney General Richard Blumenthal today issued subpoenas commanding several A.I.G. employees, including CEO Edward M. Liddy, to appear at a legislative hearing on Thursday, March 26.”
Wait a second. Why would the Attorney General of Connecticut be involved in issuing subpoenas for a legislative hearing? As an executive branch official, the Attorney General has no authority to call a legislative hearing, to decide who will testify, or to subpoena witnesses to attend.
The Connecticut Statute which governs subpoenas for legislative hearings (and which is cited in the press release) provides that “the president of the Senate, the speaker of the House of Representatives, or a chairman of the whole, or of any committee of either house, of the General Assembly, or either of the chairmen of the Legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee shall have the power to compel the attendance and testimony of witnesses by subpoena and capias issued by any of them . . . .” The persons authorized to issue subpoenas are all legislative officials, and there is no suggestion that the Attorney General or any other executive official has any role.
Well, you might say, the press release may misleadingly suggest that Blumenthal is involved in issuing the subpoenas, but a really close reading would reveal the truth. For example, the photograph accompanying the press release shows the two committee chairs, pens in hand, in the act of signing the subpoenas, while Blumenthal, sans pen, sits evidently drumming his fingers. The caption says “Senator Duff and Representative Ryan Barry, with Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, sign subpoenas ordering several employees of the insurance company, AIG, to testify at a Banks Committee investigative hearing.”
So why is Blumenthal there at all? The release quotes Blumenthal as saying that “these A.I.G. employees have a moral and legal obligation to appear at this legislative hearing.” He further states: “I will enforce these subpoenas through prompt and aggressive court action. We are preparing to do so.”
Leaving aside the Attorney General’s authority to decide who has a “moral” obligation to appear at legislative hearings, one might think that the Attorney General would have a role in enforcing the “legal” obligation to appear. But does he? Under federal law, the U.S. Attorney General has no authority to enforce congressional subpoenas. Only if the failure to comply with a congressional subpoena results in a contempt finding by the full House of Congress does the executive branch become involved, and then the matter is referred to the U.S. Attorney, not the Attorney General.
Is Connecticut law different? According to Conn. Code 2-48: “Whenever a witness summoned fails to testify and the fact is reported to either house, the president of the Senate or the speaker of the House, as the case may be, shall certify to the fact under the seal of the state to the state’s attorney for the judicial district of Hartford, who shall prosecute therefor.”
This language is quite similar to that contained in federal law, and suggests that a witness may be prosecuted only after the committee which issued the subpoena reports his or her contempt to the full house, and the house then votes to refer the matter for prosecution. Moreover, even when such referral occurs, it goes not to the Attorney General, but to the state’s attorney for the judicial district of Hartford.
Now I am no expert on Connecticut law, and it is possible that the Attorney General is allowed to end run this statutory scheme by bringing a direct enforcement action when a witness refuses to testify. I can only say that this would be impermissible, and quite likely unconstitutional, under federal law. Given the extraordinary and publicity-driven nature of these Connecticut proceedings, however, there is ample reason to question whether the Attorney General is overstepping his bounds.