When Jesus was in the temple of Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders came to him as he was teaching, and asked by what authority he had cast the vendors out of the temple and was preaching there, even though he was not a Kohain (a member the priestly cast), and furthermore, who gave him this authority. Jesus answered:
I will ask you one thing, and if you answer, I will tell you by what authority I do what I do. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or from men?
They reasoned amongst themselves, knowing that if they said from heaven, Jesus would ask why they had not believed John; but if they said from men, they would anger the people, for all believed that John was a prophet. So they told Jesus that they could not tell, and he said:
Then I will not tell you by what authority I do these things.
The chief priests and elders were the ruling class of Judea. They had not endorsed John because he challenged their authority, and his claim that baptism and repentance of sins where required in preparation for the coming of the kingdom of heaven detracted from the monopoly of the temple for forgiving sins via sacrifice. This not only gave them power, it was lucrative: Need a sin forgiven? Buy a bird to sacrifice; Can’t afford one? We’ve got money lenders.
Like almost all politicians, their only concern was for themselves and their own power. Rather than seeking for a true answer to the question Jesus posed, they instead looked for the answer that would do the least damage to their own power. And so, like so many politicians since, they elected not to answer, knowing that to do so, they must either go against their constituents or admit to being hypocrites.