For the first time since Whitewater, the full Senate voted to move forward with civil contempt proceedings.
And unlike the circumstances of the 1995 investigation into then-President Bill Clinton, senators are speaking with one voice in support of an effort led by GOP Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri to hold in contempt a classified website they say trades in sex.
The Senate voted 96-0 in favor of a resolution to authorize the legal action against Backpage.com, which has refused to honor a subpoena to appear before a Senate committee.
"The aim of my and Senator McCaskill's investigation is straightforward: We want to understand how lawmakers, law enforcement, and even private businesses can more effectively combat this serious crime that thrives on an online black market," Portman said ahead of the vote. "Traffickers have found refuge and new customers through websites that specialize in advertising 'ordinary' prostitution and lawful escort services."
Backpage's attorneys have said the company looked forward to pursuing the matter in court, saying it was the only way to resolve the disagreement with the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, where Portman is chairman and McCaskill is ranking Democrat.
"The contempt that Backpage has shown for our bipartisan investigation has now been met with the unanimous contempt of the full U.S. Senate," McCaskill said. "This historic vote makes a clear statement — we are fully committed to getting to the bottom of this company’s business practices and policies for preventing the trafficking of children, and we will get these answers."
Portman and McCaskill are not alone in their effort.
Other senators have worked to stop the use of BackPage for sexual exploitation in the past, including Sen. Mark S. Kirk, R-Ill. He authored legislation that has become law making it a federal crime to operate a website in which you knowingly allow ads for sex with children. But Kirk has not been pleased with the level of enforcement of that law.
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