Public policy is at the heart of US congressional investigations, where private corporations can confront a unique set of rules and mores—in a very public forum, often covered in the news and televised. This article traces the historical precedents to congressional inquiries, highlighting cases such as the ‘Teapot Dome’ scandal and the ensuing US Supreme Court case, McGrain v. Daugherty, confirming the Legislative Branch's independent investigative authority to compel a witness to testify and produce documents. The article explains the two types of congressional investigations, oversight and legislative, and how their differences could impact the corporations involved. It reviews recent examples of investigations, illuminating how a corporation's public relations and legal rights can both overlap and point to differing interests. Based upon first-hand experience, the author provides a legal perspective in explaining the investigation procedures, the legal limits to congressional authority, and the steps taken to prepare a witness for testimony. Finally, the author explains how readiness for congressional inquiries is an integral aspect of prudent risk management for any major corporation.
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