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Congressional Investigations

Congressional Investigations

Congress’ Power of Inquiry

Ever since Congress established broad powers to enforce demands for information through two U.S. Supreme Court rulings in the 1920s, the legislative body has become increasingly aggressive in its pursuit of answers to questions on legislative concerns. In its landmark McGrain v. Daugherty decision, the Supreme Court defined Congress’ power of inquiry by noting that a legislative body “cannot legislate wisely or effectively” without pertinent information, and if it lacks such information then “recourse must be had to others who possess it,” according to the Congressional Research Service.

At Tully Rinckey PLLC, we know how alarming it can be to be on the receiving end of such congressional recourse. Congressional requests for information from individuals or businesses can come without warning or in response to what could be considered disasters from a business standpoint, such as an accident, security breach or allegations of questionable practices. Businesses then find themselves juggling the heavy demands of performing damage control and responding to congressional inquiries. Our attorneys will work to ensure a business does not “drop the ball” when it comes to responding to congressional investigations.

Sometimes congressional requests for information can be broad or seek sensitive – even confidential or personal – information. The consequences for failing to produce documents or to truthfully respond to questions in written statements or in oral testimony are severe. Refusals to comply with such requests could prompt subpoenas or contempt proceedings. The congressional investigation attorneys at Tully Rinckey PLLC can help individuals and businesses cooperate with Congress without unnecessarily divulging sensitive information.

Congressional Investigation Basics*

  • Requests for information:
    • Must be authorized by Congress
    • Must serve a legislative purpose
    • Must explain to a witness the purpose of questioning
    • Cannot intrude on the adjudicatory process of departments or agencies
  • Subpoenas:
    • Can be issued by all congressional committees and subcommittees
    • Can demand the attendance and testimony of a witness, the production of pertinent books, records, memoranda, papers and documents
    • Must specify when and where a witness must attend a public hearing, the documents sought and when they must be delivered
    • Are commonly delivered by committee staff or U.S. Marshall representatives
  • Reasons for refusing to cooperate:
    • The documents or testimony sought are confidential or personal in nature or not pertinent to the investigation
    • Self-incrimination
      • Congress can grant full or partial immunity to witnesses who assert their Fifth Amendment rights
  • Contempt provisions:
    • Inherent contempt: Intended to pressure contemptors into providing testimony or documents by holding them in custody
    • Criminal contempt: Intended to punish comtemptors with imprisonment or fines. This provision is a less time-consuming alternative to inherent contempt proceedings
    • Civil contempt: A recourse available only to the Senate, which can ask the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to order a contemptor to comply with a subpoena or order. The sanctions the court can impose on individuals who are in contempt of court can be used to pressure them into providing testimony or documents
    • Other criminal provisions:
      • False statements
      • Perjury
      • Obstruction of committee proceedings

*According to the Congressional Research Service

Tully Rinckey PLLC Congressional Investigation Services

Requests for Information and Subpoenas Requests for Testimony and Depositions
Negotiating the scope of congressional requests for documents so unnecessary confidential or personal information is not disclosed Preparing testimony for public hearings
Responding to congressional requests for information or subpoenas for documents Preparing answers to the questions raised at public hearings
Establishing a systematic method for collecting and documenting requested or subpoenaed information Advising witnesses of their rights at congressional depositions
Serving as a liaison to the requesting legislative body to maintain a spirit of cooperation and defuse tensions with Congress members or their staff
Reviewing drafts of congressional reports to ensure accuracy

Our Team

Tully Rinckey PLLC’s congressional investigations practice is headed by a former four-term congressman who sat on the influential House Appropriations Committee and served as the vice chairman of one of its subcommittees. We are very familiar with the expectations and unique structures of various congressional committees and subcommittees, positioning us to better negotiate with their members and staffs and protect the interests of our clients.

Our lawyers will mobilize quickly to help you access what a congressional committee or subcommittee is requesting, what falls in or outside the scope of the investigation and the best way to respond to it. Congressional investigations run on fast timetables, so do not delay. Call Tully Rinckey PLLC 24 hours a day, 7 day a week at  703-525-4700 or via e-mail at

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