The Yates Memo and Three Dog Night

Deputy Attorney General Yates

Deputy Attorney General Yates

Unless you have been on a monastic retreat or hidden as carefully as Hillary Clinton’s email server, you have by now likely read reports and analyses of the “Yates Memorandum,” a policy document issued by Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates entitled “Individual Accountability for Corporate Wrongdoing.”

(Here is the document:  Yates-Memo-Prosecution-of-Individuals.pdf ).

In this essay, I focus on one particular aspect that may be crucial for companies, their boards of directors, their audit committees and law department: The timing of potential disclosures to the Government and the degree to which outside counsel needs to have comfort that what he or she is relating to the Government on the company’s behalf is more or less reliable.

The Yates Memo sets out six principles that the Department of Justice intends to apply in a renewed (or apparently renewed) emphasis on the prosecution of individuals in the context of the investigation of corporate wrongdoing.

The key summary paragraph is as follows:

The guidance in this memo reflects six key steps to strengthen our pursuit of individual corporate wrongdoing, some of which reflect policy shifts and each of which is described in greater detail below: (1) in order to qualify for any cooperation credit, corporations must provide to the Department all relevant facts relating to the individuals responsible for the misconduct; (2) criminal and civil corporate investigations should focus on individuals from the inception of the investigation; (3) criminal and civil attorneys handling corporate investigations should be in routine communication with one another; (4) absent extraordinary circumstances or approved departmental policy, the Department will not release culpable individuals from civil or criminal liability when resolving a matter with a corporation; (5) Department attorneys should not resolve matters with a corporation without a clear plan to resolve related individual cases, and should memorialize any declinations as to individuals in such cases; and (6) civil attorneys should consistently focus on individuals as well as the company and evaluate whether to bring suit against an individual based on considerations beyond that individual’s ability to pay.

There has been considerable criticism of DOJ from politicians, editorialists and judges (see the Southern District of New York’s Judge Jed Rakoff here and a note here and here about Judge William H. Pauley) over the paucity of individual prosecutions arising from the financial crisis.  Assuming that the memorandum is more than a simple public relations effort to deflect that criticism, a number of points come to mind.

Difficult to keep calm, actually.

Difficult to keep calm, actually.

First, if implemented, the Yates Memo will cause more corporate officers and employees to lawyer up, and lawyer up earlier, then at any time since the savings and loan crisis.  As a white-collar and internal-investigations lawyer with looming college tuition to pay for, I have no objection to such an outcome, but it may actually make getting the facts out of an internal investigation more difficult, not less.

Second, the renewed focus on facts pertaining to individuals will potentially make it very uncomfortable for boards of directors, audit committees, chief legal officers and other decision-makers who will more frequently be tempted to throw company officers and employees under the bus than previously.  To cite Three Dog Night from their eponymous 1969 album, “one is the loneliest number.”

Third, although DOJ officials in speeches have said repeatedly that they are not trying to force corporate outside counsel to be police officers, there is more than a whiff of that impulse in the Yates Memo.  Such an approach raises multiple potential conflict of interest problems.

Civil discovery.  Criminal facts?

Civil discovery. Criminal facts?

Fourth, the focus on individual wrongdoing (and disclosure of facts relating to individual wrongdoing) is to apply equally in the civil arena. Companies and businesspeople have far more civil problems then criminal.  The ultimate effect of the Yates Memo may be felt most dangerously (and most expensively) in the civil context.

Fifth, it is unclear (at least to me) whether and to what extent the Yates Memo will require outside counsel conducting an internal investigation to modify a standard Upjohn instruction.  (We have previously discussed Upjohn warnings in these posts).  In other words, does company counsel need to add an explicit statement that, should the witness reveal facts about himself or herself that appear to be a reasonable basis of criminal liability (theirs or the company’s), the lawyer will probably tote those facts over to the Government?

As a practical matter for corporations and those who guide and advise them, as well as for lawyers who represent individual officers and employees, the most delicate task will be trying to figure out at what point in time does one pull the disclosure trigger with regard to evidence of individual wrongdoing.

In other words, when do you know what it is that you know? And, what if you make your early or premature disclosure to the Government but you are wrong?

Off to college? Or, to a meeting at the U.S. Attorney's Office?

Off to college? Or, to a meeting at the U.S. Attorney’s Office?

As I write this, my daughter is a high school senior in the midst of college applications.  These applications come at the tail end of a lengthy period of campus visits, alumni interviews, webpage reading and prayer.  We have been diligent, and the process by turns exhilarating, disappointing and expensive.

What struck me is how different things look now than when we began.  At some point, one must “land the plane” – that is, make a decision – whether one is in the midst of a college search process or an internal corporate investigation.  Yet, had my daughter been forced to apply very early in the process to, say, what were her top five choices then, we would have been in an artificially different (and most likely more disadvantageous) situation from the one in which we find ourselves today.

The Yates Memo will put boards of directors, audit committees and chief legal officers is in a similar position of having to make a call unnaturally early in an internal investigation in hopes of reaping the harvest of cooperation.  As most anyone who is been through an internal investigation can attest, the factual landscape and legal conclusions are often different (but more accurate) late in the day.  The next months and years under the Yates Memo will tell, but it would be a shame if, in order to grasp at cooperation’s life jacket, American businesses and their legal advisers are put in a situation that helps neither the legitimate aims of Government prosecutions nor those companies’ shareholders and stakeholders.

SIDEBAR: In the context of governmental policy, it is easy to talk about the prosecution of individuals without putting a face (and a life) to a name.  With faceless defendants, we sometimes forget what investigations and trials can do to individuals and their families.

Tom Hayes and wife Sarah Tighe

Tom Hayes and wife Sarah Tighe

In this five-part series in the Wall Street Journal, David Enrich lays out the prosecution of LIBOR trader Tom Hayes.  “The Unraveling of Tom Hayes” bears a careful read.


Friday cocktails: Barware, Jameson Slushies, Perfect Martinis and Emerson, Lake & Palmer

A brief guide for the weekend.

(Hennie Haworth)

(Hennie Haworth)

It’s hard to operate a home bar without good barware, as explained in All the Essential Barware You Need at Home


Inside-Job-e1432667629585From, a short on a bourbon-based cocktail (at right) called The Inside Job.


Lots of anti-oxidants.

Lots of anti-oxidants.

Perhaps a bit frothy, but a Dye House cocktail (left) (from Samuel Nelis, Waterworks Food + Drink, Winooski, Vermont via Gaz Ragan) looks cool.


The Jameson Slushie

The Jameson Slushie

From Gastronomista, this idea (right) beats all hell out of an Icee: Jameson Slushies.



My mother has always enjoyed an old-fashioned at Christmas.  See this below from

And finally, from Crave, a return to The Perfect Martini, which is likely a bit sweet for many these days.

Very retro.

Very retro.

At the end of the week, I am always grateful for the many blessings bestowed upon me.  I am reminded that “it is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes” (Psalm 118:9).

Which, in turn, puts me in mind of Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s “Lucky Man” (1970):



The Five Best Ways for Your Client’s Employees to Get Indicted

A glass of ice water, please.

A glass of ice water, please.

The nice folks at the Birmingham Bar Association (and white-collar criminal defense lawyer Steve Shaw in particular) invited me to deliver a lunchtime CLE on a white-collar subject of my choice.  The topic ended up being “The Five Best Ways for Your Client’s Employees to Get Indicted.”

One could come up with more ways your client’s employees could get indicted, but life is short.

Hunting for 18 U.S.C. Section 1001.

Hunting for 18 U.S.C. Section 1001.

Here is the handout: The Five Best Ways for Your Client’s Employees to Get Indicted. Download it.  It’s not legal advice, but it has some fairly useful material about bribery, obstruction and honest-services fraud in the Eleventh Circuit, as well as quotes from Men In Black (1997).  We spent a fair amount of time on practical considerations in working with businesspeople involved in white-collar investigations, including this piece: Stalking Horses, Pitchfork Crowds, Narrow Neckties, Mr. Rogers’s Slippers and Indicted Employees: 6 Steps To Dodge Being Deweyed.

All about the ratings.

All about the ratings.

And, there was even a caution against the “Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. Syndrome,” named after the star of the old television series The FBI.  Watch this 140-second video on the Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. Syndrome.

Wine, White-Collar Crime and You.

A conference with elan.

A conference with elan.

The ABA Southeastern White Collar Crime Institute near Atlanta on September 10 and 11, 2015  is a good event at a nice place (Chateau Elan) for white-collar practitioners.

Sharman speaking again?

Sharman speaking again?

They are letting me speak at the conference, but do not let that dissuade you from attending.  The faculty list is comprehensive and the topics timely.

Plus, it’s at a winery.

Here are some of the topics:

The Effective Use of Criminal Discovery: Tactics for the Defense and the Government
Litigating Prosecutorial Conduct: The Line Between Ethics and Tactics
The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and Other International Bribery Crimes: When Other Nations Join the Enforcement Party
Supreme Court Update and Other Notable Developments in Criminal Law
A View from the Top: A Look at Federal Law Enforcement Initiatives
You Can’t Always Get What You Want: Sentencing Issues in Economic Crimes
and the Limitations of USSG § 2B1.1
White Collar Criminal Enforcement: Is the Government More Willing Than Ever To Go To Trial?


The Myth of Club Fed

All included.

All included.

For those who refer in cavalier fashion to white-collar convicts and “Club Fed,” consider this New York Times article on Raj Gupta’s federal prison experience: Onetime Allies on Wall Street Have Uneasy Prison Reunion After Insider Trading Trials.  In particular:

In their heyday, Raj Rajaratnam and Rajat K. Gupta were business partners who lent each other a helping hand.

The two men were very different. Mr. Rajaratnam was a high-rolling hedge fund manager who loved to take risks, while Mr. Gupta was a consultant educated at Harvard Business School who worked all his life at one firm, McKinsey & Company.

Years after their closely watched insider trading trials and two of the biggest victories for prosecutors in the government’s crackdown on insider trading on Wall Street, the men find themselves under the same roof: In a new development, both are now at the main prison at the Federal Medical Center Devens in Ayer, Mass., northwest of Boston, with 1,000 other inmates.

Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home.

Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home.

In theory, “federal medical centers” (or “FMCs”) are at the more civilized end of the Bureau of Prisons structure.  The BOP website for FMC Devens refers to it as “an administrative security federal medical center with an adjacent minimum security satellite camp.”  Sounds nice enough.  Like a tough post office, perhaps.

The reality is different:

Though Mr. Gupta earned inmates’ respect, prison conditions can seem harsh to those accustomed to civilian life. White-collar convicts are typically treated better than murderers, but the main prison in Devens houses inmates of all security levels; until recently, it was home to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bomber.

When Mr. Gupta arrived in June 2014, he was assigned to Devens’s minimum security camp, which houses 135 inmates. But in April, Mr. Gupta was sent for six weeks to the Special Housing Unit, or SHU (pronounced “shoe,” as fans of the Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black” know), as punishment. His infraction was having an unauthorized item: an extra pillow.

Inmates often grab the pillows of departing prisoners. Mr. Gupta hoped an extra pillow would help with a bad back.

* * * *

It was the second time that Mr. Gupta was sent to “the hole,” as the SHU is sometimes called. Last summer, Mr. Gupta was dispatched to the unit for sitting during the inmate count.

“He was actually tying his shoe,” Mr. Morgan said.

Inmates in the unit are kept in near solitary conditions. They are allowed out of their cells only for one hour of exercise a day, said Michael Santos, a former federal prisoner who is now a consultant. A light is on 24 hours a day for observation.

When inmates are moved for a visit, they must wear orange jumpsuits and are restrained in an elaborate procedure. “There is a cutout door within the cell door,” Mr. Santos said, through which inmates are also fed. “The inmate is told to back step to the door, squat down, and then he will be told to put his arms behind his back, and through that slot, the guard will put handcuffs on him,” he said.

The guard opens the door only when the inmate has been cuffed.

At a disciplinary hearing in May, Mr. Gupta’s privileges such as visiting rights were revoked, people briefed on the situation said. When Mr. Gupta’s elder sister traveled from India to see him, he offered to serve more time if she could visit, these people said. His requests were denied. She returned to India without seeing her brother.

The shoe is on the white-collar foot.

The shoe is on the white-collar foot.

Securities fraud is unlawful and merits punishment, but we should bear in mind that no Bureau of Prisons facility is a resort.

Not only is prison no respite for the convicted, the entire criminal-justice process is life-destroying for the white-collar defendant from the git-go, even if the person or company is not charged or, if charged, ultimately acquitted.  Here are a few thoughts in one minute and 52 seconds:







FIFA Indictments, Corporate Compliance, Alfred Kinsey and Robert Lee

Shaving too close.

Shaving too close.

Law360′s Zachary Zagger has a nice piece on the FIFA prosecution and quotes, among others, Jack Sharman:

“Given this many defendants and the fact that there is going to be at least some who are going to cooperate, it would not surprise me if there wasn’t a second wave of charges or people coming out of the woodwork, people you have not heard of yet,” said Jackson R. Sharman III, a white collar criminal defense attorney with Lightfoot Franklin & White LLC.

“If it is going to survive, it is going to have to have a more rigorous compliance structure than some of the items that have come across thus far,” Sharman said suggesting that it may need to create something like a corporate board of directors or an inspector general-type official to address compliance issues directly.

Here is a link to the full article:  3 Things To Watch Out For In The FIFA Corruption Case

Compliance drill.

Compliance drill.

We have spoken with the Wall Street Journal previously about the FIFA case: FIFA Indictments and the Notion of Global Compliance:

Jackson Sharman, a white collar specialist at Lightfoot, Franklin & White LLC, says that the case shows that the notion of a swelling, global compliance culture may be exaggerated. Attorneys and compliance professionals often make the mistake of believing their concerns about bribery are representative of the organizations where they work, he said. “It’s dangerous to assume that a legal regime is being internalized by everybody, because clearly it’s not,” Mr. Sharman said. “Assuming that others think the same way as you think can be fatal.”

Setting others aside, it can also be fatal to your enterprise if you fail to understand how you going about thinking through compliance questions.

Robert Edward Lee

Robert Edward Lee

Much has been made recently of Confederate images and names.  On the compliance front, I invoked Robert E. Lee last year in a post about McKinsey, General Lee and the Culture of Compliance:

Except perhaps for “paradigm” and “silo,” the word “culture” is one of the most abused in the vocabulary of compliance, ethics and consultants.  (I once heard a consultant say that he needed “a high hover over the silos.”  I thought it an ironic mash-up about drones and agriculture; it was not).  Yet, “culture” has a meaning in the broader world; in commerce; and in compliance.  “Culture” represents a gear-shift in compliance and ethics, and can be smooth or bone-rattling.


Not Robert Edward Lee.

Not Robert Edward Lee.

(For the careless reader, note that the title refers to McKinsey, the consulting firm, not to Alfred Kinsey, the sex researcher).



Global or domestic, “compliance” comes in three flavors — criminal, civil and regulatory.  Sometimes, you get a mouthful of all three at once.

Why is that?  And, what to do about it?

A few thoughts here:


Flipboard Spotlight | White Collar | Nice Tie.



You may use Flipboard as a nifty way to organize news and media in which you have an interest.  (If you don’t use Flipboard, try it).

For mysterious reasons, Flipboard decided to do a “spotlight” on me as a “Magazine Maker.”  (“Magazines” are the way you organize stories in Flipboard).  Here is the story: Attorney and White Collar Wire Blogger Jack Sharman

Nice tie.

Nice tie.

My name is Jack Sharman. I’m a lawyer who blogs at White Collar Wire about white-collar criminal defense, crime fiction, cocktails and theology.

My love of narrative led me to all of those topics. Juror, reader, drinker, sinner: everyone needs a good story.

I use Flipboard “inbound” as a newsfeed and “outbound” as an aggregator of articles, blog posts and news items. I have six magazines. They range from the professional (White Collar) to the curious: Noir, for example, is an offshoot of Crime Fiction.

The first article I flipped was an article in The New York Times about the SEC (the market regulator, not the real SEC).

My favorite topic on Flipboard is white-collar crime and government investigations, but I also spend time with film noir and literature, nice resorts and lacrosse.

The best article I’ve read all week was about the jury in the Etan Patz murder trial. I know little of the record in the case, but the jurors in their post-trial interview demonstrated remarkable respect for the process and for each other.

A magazine I found on Flipboard that’s made my life better? I can’t say that any magazine has made my life “better,” but I reflect on the images in Abandoned But Not Forgotten (Gianni Mazzetti), a collection of photographs of abandoned houses, businesses, factories and other structures. It’s like Ecclesiastes for social media.

My media diet consists of Twitter lists, Tumblr, ESPN and work-pertinent blogs such as 500 Pearl Street (Walt Pavlo), White Collar Watch (Professor Peter J. Henning) and White Collar Crime Prof Blog (Professors Ellen S. Podgor and Lucian E. Dervan, and defense lawyers Lawrence S. Goldman and Solomon L. Wisenberg).

Other hits: Rap Sheet (J. Kingston Pierce) (crime fiction), Mockingbird (culture and the theology of grace), Gastronomista (Emily Arden Wells) (cocktails), About Last Night (Terry Teachout and the arts) and After Deadline (Philip B. Corbett) (writing style, usage and grammar from the New York Times). The Daily Office Lectionary, an app that tracks the Anglican cycle of prayer, is a useful tool for early morning meditation and prayer, as is the ESV Bible app. Music comes from Soundhound.

A unique productivity tip of mine is to drink no coffee and review no email before reflecting on what is actually important, rather than what the world tells me is important. (I’m not sure how “unique” that tip is, but it works better than the alternative.)

Here are the magazines I curate.  Follow any (or all).

View my Flipboard Magazine.

View my Flipboard Magazine.

View my Flipboard Magazine.

View my Flipboard Magazine.

View my Flipboard Magazine.

View my Flipboard Magazine.

Lessons From An Ex-Congressional Lawyer

Almost two decades ago, I learned several lessons as a Congressional lawyer, some more useful than others.  Here is a 59-second summary of the better lessons.

Let’s go over a few more lessons that might be useful, should you or your client be summoned to appear before a House or Senate Committee.

The Lessons of Congressional Peculiarities

A document request or interview demand from Congressional investigatory staff could be a one-time, narrowly-focused inquiry or part of a complex investigatory broadside – involving simultaneous civil, criminal and congressional investigations into a company (or its employees) or even an entire industry.  Examples in recent times include antitrust, food-and-drug, environmental, financial and corporate-governance investigations, as well as executive-branch oversight hearings such as Benghazi.  Counsel should be aware of their evidentiary impact.  In particular, he or she must move aggressively to limit the adverse impact of discovery produced in one forum on other proceedings.  Given the scope of Congressional investigatory power, however, this task can be difficult.[1]

Where the only two competing interests are simultaneous civil and criminal proceedings, of course, it is not uncommon for defendants to seek a stay of the civil proceedings – often with the express or implied agreement of the government – until resolution of the criminal action.

Where the third competing investigatory interest is Congress, however, the picture becomes less clear.  Although not without limits, legitimate Congressional investigatory authority reaches any matter on which Congress can legislate.  For separation-of-powers reasons, courts are reluctant to address claims of Congressional investigatory overreaching, at least absent a clear due process problem.  Thus, counsel will not be able to enjoin a Congressional subpoena, for example, or impose upon the committee a protective order for his or her documents.[2]   Counsel’s greater chance of success lies in persuading committee counsel or staff that the scope of document requests or subpoenas can be narrowed such that the client’s interest is protected while still allowing the committee to carry out its function.  Counsel should also seek alternative discovery mechanisms, such as allowing committee staff to review documents first, without actually taking possession of them.


Congress and Privileges

Although the Congress respects constitutional privileges (e.g., the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination), it does not officially recognize common-law protections such as the attorney-client privilege or the work-product doctrine.  Rather, many committees will often take the position that recognition of such privileges is discretionary with the committee.  As a practical matter, however, committee counsel and staff will often accept a well-grounded privilege claim.  See generally Note, The Attorney-Client Privilege in Congressional Investigations, 88 Col. L. Rev. 145 (1988).  Companies that are the target of major parallel investigations will often waive common-law privilege, either to show good faith and cooperation, or as part of a settlement with the government.

Very '90s.

Very ’90s.

Unlike a criminal defendant, a witness before a Congressional committee cannot refuse to testify altogether, but  must rather invoke the privilege in response to specific questions.


Alien Environment

For most civil or criminal litigators, a Congressional investigation is an alien environment.  Although there are House rulesHouse committee rules, Senate rules and Senate committee rules, there are no reassuring guideposts, no analogs to the Federal Rules of Evidence or of Criminal or Civil Procedure.  From a litigator’s perspective, rule number one is that there are few rules.  The issue is one of control: unlike the civil litigation context, the congressional forum is one in which you are likely to be buffeted by forces that are largely beyond your control.

Done before lunch.

Done before lunch.

The fact that there appear to be no rules in a congressional investigation underscores perhaps the primary fact that counsel should bear in mind: the committee’s investigation takes place in a political environment, not a litigation environment.  Although the investigatory process appears legalistic, it always unfolds in a political environment in which the actors have political goals that may or may not have anything to do with your client.

The political environment will demand several things of counsel, some of them inconsistent.


The Personal and the Political

Congressional investigations are not monolithic.  They are often highly personalized between Members; between the majority and minority parties; between staffs; and between committees with potentially overlapping jurisdictions.  Counsel should therefore remember that he or she is dealing with individual people rather than the institution of “Congress.”

Counsel may be proud of his or her “Rambo” litigation style, a style that unfortunately is often successful in a world of uniformly applied rules, broadly-construed discovery standards and tolerant judges.  In the Congressional forum, however, committee counsel and staff usually possess near-plenary authority that they exercise with considerable discretion.  Even when they do not make the rules, they apply them, and they will be rarely overruled by their Chairmen solely on the complaint of a private party.

Looking for the flamethrower?

Looking for the flamethrower?

Thus, counsel should be firm, and be aggressive where necessary, but be polite to committee counsel and staff, both majority and minority.  Brendan Sullivan’s virulent, scorched-earth defense of Oliver North during the televised Iran/Contra hearings is the exception that proves the rule: in addition to the fact that Colonel North as a client offered his lawyers advantages and disadvantages peculiar only to Colonel North, Sullivan made a considered tactical decision that high-profile aggression was the appropriate tack in that particular public theater.  You may reach the same conclusion, but do not do so reflexively.


Learn the Context of the Investigation

As soon as you or your client is contacted, attempt to gain as much information as possible about the investigation in general and your client in particular.  The first and most obvious source should be your client and your client’s documents.  In addition, unlike grand jury investigations, Congressional investigations do not remain secret for extended periods.  In additional to national media, Washington specialists such as National JournalRoll Call and The Hill can provide useful background on personal and political dynamics.


Be Proactive at the Outset

Be proactive with committee counsel and staff.  Although you may determine later for strategic reasons that it is wiser to lay low (or be recalcitrant), a sound initial approach is to act promptly and to attempt to understand the individuals and issues involved.  Ask lots of questions.  What is the subject of the investigation?  How long has it been going on?  How long might it last?  Are any other committees or subcommittees looking at the same issue?  Is the Executive Branch (the Department of Justice or the regulatory agencies) looking at the same issue?  Is the committee headed towards hearings?  Has a date been set?  Is the investigation a bipartisan inquiry?  Minority only?  Majority and minority, but working separately?



Such information is valuable in determining if you are facing a full-blown, formal committee investigation or a preliminary (and perhaps unsanctioned) probe by a curious, bored or ideologically-driven staffer.  If the latter, you have an opportunity to slow down or stop the inquiry before it gathers steam.  You may be able to accomplish this goal by direct persuasion, simply convincing the staffer that there is “no there there.”  The political opposition on the committee may have an interest in stopping the investigation, or bending it to their own ends, and it will usually be in your client’s interest to consult with staff or counsel for the other party.  Thus, make every effort to find out the names of the committee lawyers or staffers in charge of the investigation (both majority and minority).  For the same reason, if the executive branch appears to be involved, identify the relevant lawyers from the Department of Justice or the regulatory agencies.


Why My Client?

You must then attempt to determine your client’s role in the investigation — or, more precisely, the committee’s perception of your client’s role.  Why is your client involved?  How did his or her name come up?  If the request is for an interview or deposition, ascertain the subject areas to the extent staff is willing to describe them.  What are the ground rules, if any?  Is there a House or Senate resolution concerning the investigation?  You should request a copy of such a resolution, if any, as well as a copy of the committee’s rules.  A committee cannot exercise authority it does not have.  Although committee authority is often broad, resolutions and rules define authority and offer counsel opportunities to exploit.  A careful examination of these materials will yield a better understanding of the procedural and substantive protections available to your client, and thus will help you make strategic decisions (for example, whether you should participate voluntarily or only by subpoena; whether the staff deposition to which your client is being asked to submit is formally authorized; whether or not the committee intends to grant witnesses immunity).[3]



And the Congressional livin' is easy.

And the Congressional livin’ is easy.

We are in the summer months.  We have written before about  summer hearings:

As a former oversight-and-investigations lawyer for a House committee, I can testify: summer is the high season for O&I hearings.  Nothing is going on legislatively, O&I hearings don’t require lobbyists or constituents, it is hot as hell but most House and Senate hearing rooms have good air-conditioning these days and, if you get some hearings under your belt in June and July, you’ll have plenty as a Member to talk about in your district or state.

Because most people are familiar with Congressional investigations only through television, they assume that if they are caught up in an investigation they will be summoned to testify before a committee like John Dean or Oliver North, with cameras clicking amid vigorous partisan drama.  Although your client may indeed be called to testify in a public hearing — and you should prepare as though your client will be called — it is more likely that constraints of time, the demands of the media, and political pressure and compromise having little to do with your client will result in your client never being called.  If your client testifies, remember that in many instances the committee members’ “questions” are not actually designed to elicit information from the witness.  Rather, questioning is often more like speech-making designed to maximize camera time on the questioner or to score political points against the opposition.

This practice is particularly prevalent in the House, where Members must usually follow the “five-minute” rule, which limits an individual Member’s questioning to that period of time.  Your client should expect frequent interruptions; indeed, it is a somewhat rare occasion under the five-minute rule when a witness is actually able to complete an answer.  There is no judge present to whom the witness can appeal, nor should you expect the chairman to step in.  In the face of such grandstanding, a witness’s only remedies are his or her opening statement, and potential softball questions from friendly Members.

Whether or not your client’s interests are best served by testifying, you should consider what steps you need to take (1) if he is called and (2) if he is not called.  For example, many committees require several hundred copies of a witness’s prepared or opening statement, and they must be delivered usually 24 hours in advance of the witness’s appearance.  What do you want to put into the opening statement?  What are other witnesses saying in their opening statements?  If your client is not called, is the opening statement something you can provide to the press as a release?  Do you have a media package ready, whether or not your client testifies?  Have you confirmed with staff where you can sit during the hearing?[4]   These are all questions you should consider carefully well in advance of the hearing day.


Clean Up and Post-Mortem

Whether or not your client is involved in high drama, do not forget the details at the end.  Your client should review and correct testimony where permissible.  If you have reached any sort of confidentiality agreements with counsel and staff (e.g., redacting personal information out of documents or deposition transcripts prior to their publication), you should confirm your understandings in writing.  You must also look ahead.  Will there be additional investigations, perhaps by other committees or in the other legislative chamber?  Has this investigation had an effect on any civil or criminal proceedings against your client?  Have you been made aware of new sources of documentary or testimonial discovery that can help or hurt your client?  Careful planning and professional flexibility at the end of the congressional investigatory process are just as important as they are at the beginning, and will serve your client well.


[1]Congressional investigatory power is “as penetrating and far-reaching as the potential to enact and appropriate under the Constitution.”  Barenblatt v. United States, 360 U.S. 109, 11 (1959).  Congress can enforce its investigatory will through, among other means, the contempt power.  The congressional contempt provision, 2 U.S.C. Section § 192, provides that


[e]very person who having been summoned as a witness by the authority of either House of Congress . . . to produce papers upon any matter under inquiry before either House . . . willfully makes default . . . shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000 and imprisonment in a common jail for not less than one month nor more than twelve months.


Under this provision, “willfulness” refers to intentional conduct, United States v. Bryan, 339 U.S. 323 (1950), not bad faith or moral turpitude.  Braden v. United States, 365 U.S. 431, 437 (1961).  Neither mistake of law nor advice of counsel excuses a violation of the statute.  See Sinclair v. United States, 279 U.S. 263, 299 (1929) (advice of counsel); Watkins v. United States, 354 U.S. 178, 208 (1957) (mistake of law).

For an exhaustive bibliography of Congressional investigations, look here.

    [2]A witness who believes that a subpoena is defective (for example, that it was issued beyond the committee’s authority, or that it violates the witness’s constitutional rights) has limited avenues of recourse.  Essentially, the witness must refuse to comply; be cited for contempt; and raise the objection as a defense in the contempt proceeding.  See Eastland v. United States Servicemen’s Fund, 421 U.S. 491, 503-07 (1975) (the Speech or Debate Clause raises “an absolute bar to judicial interference” with a Congressional subpoena).

    [3]In the Whitewater investigation during the 104th Congress, for example, the Senate Special Committee to Investigate Whitewater and Related Matters operated pursuant to a relatively comprehensive Senate resolution that authorized funding for the investigation, including staff; set out the subject matter of the inquiry; and described discovery authorities and procedures.  The House Banking Committee operated pursuant to no special resolution but rather relied on its delegated oversight authority.

    [4]Many committees do not allow lawyers to sit at the witness table or even to speak during the hearing, except to counsel the witness as to his or her constitutional rights.  See, e.g., 108th Congress, Rules of the House of Representatives (January 7, 2002), Rule XI 2(k)(3) (“Witnesses at hearings may be accompanied by their own counsel for the purpose of advising them concerning their constitutional rights.”)  This protocol places a high premium on thorough witness preparation prior to the hearing.