Historical Highlights

The House Judiciary Committee Subpoenaed Representative Oscar Keller of Minnesota

December 14, 1922
The House Judiciary Committee Subpoenaed Representative Oscar Keller of Minnesota Image courtesy of the Library of Congress A four-term Representative from Minnesota, Oscar Keller chaired the Committee on Railways and Canals in the 68th and 69th Congresses (1923–1927).
On this date, the House Judiciary Committee subpoenaed testimony from sitting Representative Oscar Keller of Minnesota about the numerous corruption accusations he had made against U.S. Attorney General Harry M. Daugherty. Three months earlier, on September 11, Keller had introduced a resolution directing the Judiciary Committee to investigate the Attorney General over what Keller broadly described as Daugherty’s curtailment of the constitutional freedoms of speech and assembly, and Daugherty’s refusal to prosecute antitrust cases. After the House referred his measure to the Judiciary Committee, Keller met with committee members in mid-September. Despite repeated requests from the committee for additional information, Keller offered no evidence for his claims and said he needed to consult with a lawyer. On November 23, the committee formally asked Keller to provide detailed evidence and the names of witnesses who could corroborate his claims against the Attorney General. On December 1, Keller presented a list of some 60 allegations against Daugherty, including his failure to thoroughly investigate the Teapot Dome bribery scandal that ensnared high-ranking government officials in April 1922. Amid intense press scrutiny, Daugherty wrote a point-by-point rebuttal to each of Keller’s assertions. The Judiciary Committee opened impeachment hearings into Daugherty on December 12, with a list of more than two dozen witnesses. But two days later, Keller interrupted committee proceedings with a statement calling the hearings a sham. When Keller refused to be sworn in to offer his comments under oath, Andrew John Volstead of Minnesota, the committee chair, threatened to subpoena him. “You cannot bully this committee,” Volstead told Keller. “I am through with you,” Keller replied, before storming from the room, calling the proceedings a “comic opera performance.” Within minutes, the Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena—signed by Speaker Frederick H. Gillett of Massachusetts and House Clerk William Tyler Page, and delivered to Keller that evening by the Sergeant at Arms, Joseph G. Rodgers—compelling him to appear the next morning before the committee. Keller refused to cooperate, and his lawyer told the committee that as a sitting Member of Congress Keller could not be compelled to testify. The committee rejected that reasoning, demanded that Keller appear, and considered whether he should be jailed for being in contempt. But before the case against Keller went any farther, the House granted him an indefinite leave of absence due to ill health. Friends described the Minnesotan as suffering a from a “nervous breakdown,” brought on by the pace of proceedings and his fear that the House would expel him for refusing to comply with the subpoena. On January 9, 1923, with the 67th Congress (1921–1923) set to expire in less than two months, the Judiciary Committee voted against opening impeachment proceedings into Dougherty, 12 to 2. The committee did, however, reaffirm its authority to issue a summons for Keller and that the House had “the power” to arrest and imprison him “until he shall consent to testify” for the duration of legislative session. The full House voted to table Keller’s initial accusations against Daugherty, but ultimately took no further action against Keller. Despite his refusal to cooperate with the Judiciary Committee, Keller served two more terms in the House, chairing the Committee on Railways and Canals, before losing re-election in 1926. Daugherty, meanwhile, remained embroiled in controversy amid the fallout from the Teapot Dome scandal. When President Warren G. Harding died in August 1923, Harding’s successor, Calvin Coolidge, forced Daugherty to resign as Attorney General.

Related Highlight Subjects

Fast Facts

The Constitution says nothing about congressional investigations and oversight, but the authority to conduct investigations is implied since Congress possesses “all legislative powers.” The Supreme Court determined that the framers intended for Congress to seek out information when crafting or reviewing legislation.

More >