Takeaways For Subpoena Season: Mid-Terms, Congress and the White House

The Democrats having taken the House, there is no shortage of predictions of an oversight-apocalypse heading for the White House.  See here and here and here.  And, Jeff Sessions is no doubt relieved to be gone as Attorney General.

Some of the doomsday observations are a bit fevered, but there is no doubt that congressional oversight received a shot in the arm from the election results.  And, there is no doubt that hard-charging, partisan investigations, as such inquiries especially tend to be in the House, are hard on executive branch lawyers, staff and witnesses as Politico notes: ‘It’s depressing as hell’: Dem win would spell misery for Trump White House aides

First, 59 seconds about Congressional investigations:

We have written about oversight in detail before.  Click on the headline to read the post:

Congressional Investigations, Criminal Cases and The Knights Who Say “Ni!”


With the Republicans retaining control of the Senate, there is little likelihood of an impeachment trial, but that outcome need not stop the Democrats from taking a run at promulgating articles of impeachment in the Senate.  To catch up on your impeachment reading list, see below.  (Click on the headline to be taken to the full article):

Impeachment Lessons and The Midnight Special

Takeaways for Subpoena Season.  So, here are three takeaways — one for the White House, one for congressional investigators and one for the viewing public.

White House subpoena response.

For the White House.  Bulk up with talented staff, spend lots of time preparing witnesses and hold the line.  Congressional committees can be fractious and cowardly at the same time.  When the executive branch holds fast, and Congress’s only option is the judicial branch, the executive branch usually wins (setting aside what, exactly, “wins” means in a particular situation).


Will the committees be enthusiastic?

For Congressional Investigators.  Conduct investigations as though you are getting ready for trial.  Conduct hearings as though they are trials.  Trial-focus means that you have to identify the right themes (and stick to them, discarding the rest) and the right “jurors” (and speak to them, not to everybody).

For The Viewing Public.  Remember that congressional hearings are theater, and especially so with oversight hearings, where there is usually neither a piece of proposed legislation nor a money issue before the committee.  Theater can be serious, and important, but it is still theater.  The most important things happen where you cannot see them.