Key Laws & OLC Opinions
Below you can find a list of key laws and Office of Legal Counsel opinions relating to legislative oversight.
U.S. Code, Title 2, The Congress, especially Chapter 6, Congressional and Committee Procedure; Investigations, and Chapter 9D, Office of Senate Legal Counsel
No false statements to Congress
18 U.S.C. § 1001 states that anyone who “knowingly and willfully … falsifies, conceals, or covers up … a material fact” or “makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement,” or makes or uses “any false writing” in a matter within the jurisdiction of Congress can be fined, imprisoned for up to five years (eight for terrorism), or both. In general, a person who makes a false statement to a senator, representative, or congressional staffer during an authorized “investigation or review,” including in a deposition, interview, telephone call, letter, or email, risks prosecution.
18 U.S.C. § 1621 makes a misstatement of a “material matter” under oath punishable with a fine, imprisonment of not more than five years, or both.
Congressional obstruction statute
18 U.S.C. § 1505 makes it a crime for anyone to “corruptly” or through the use of “any threatening letter or communication” to “influence, obstruct, or impede” a congressional inquiry or investigation. Violating the statute is punishable with a fine, imprisonment of not more than five years, or both.
Congressional criminal contempt statute
2 U.S.C. § 192 authorizes Congress to find that a person who was summoned as a “witness” before a house of Congress, and who refused to appear, answer questions, or produce requested “papers,” is guilty of a criminal misdemeanor, and subject to a monetary fine or imprisonment of not more than one year.
2 U.S.C.§ 194 states that if Congress certifies to the “appropriate United States attorney” a failure to provide information under § 192, it “shall” be the “duty” of that federal prosecutor to bring the matter before a grand jury.
Senate civil contempt statutes
2 U.S.C. §§ 288b(b) and 288d, and 28 U.S.C. § 1365 authorize the filing of a civil suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against anyone resisting a Senate subpoena other than an executive branch officer or employee (who enjoy a statutory exemption).
Congressional access to tax returns
26 USC § 6103(f) states that the Treasury Secretary, upon receiving a written request from the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, Senate Finance Committee, or Joint Committee on Taxation, “shall furnish” any specified tax return or tax return information.
- Ways and Means Committee’s Request for the Former President’s Tax Returns (July 30, 2021)
- House Committees’ Authority to Investigate for Impeachment (Jan. 19, 2020)
- Publication of a Report to the President on the Effect of Automobile and Automobile-Part Imports on the National Security (Jan. 17, 2020)
- Exclusion of Agency Counsel from Congressional Depositions in the Impeachment Context (Nov. 1, 2019)
- Testimonial Immunity Before Congress of the Assistant to the President and Senior Counselor to the President (July 12, 2019)
- Congressional Committee’s Request for the President’s Tax Returns Under 26 U.S.C. § 6103(f) (June 13, 2019)
- Attempted Exclusion of Agency Counsel from Congressional Depositions of Agency Employees (pdf) (May 23, 2019)
- Testimonial Immunity Before Congress of the Former Counsel to the President (pdf) (May 20, 2019)
- Authority of Individual Members of Congress to Conduct Oversight of the Executive Branch (May 1, 2017)
- Response of Sen. Grassley to May 1, 2017 DOJ Letter Opinion (pdf) (June 7, 2017)
- Immunity of the Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Political Strategy and Outreach From Congressional Subpoena (July 15, 2014)
- Prosecutorial Discretion Regarding Citations for Contempt of Congress (June 16, 2014)
- Assertion of Executive Privilege over Documents Generated in Response to Congressional Investigation into Operation Fast and Furious (pdf) (June 19, 2012)
- Assertion of Executive Privilege Concerning the Special Counsel’s Interviews of the Vice President and Senior White House Staff (pdf) (July 15, 2008)
- Assertion of Executive Privilege Over Communications Regarding EPA’s Ozone Air Quality Standards and California’s Greenhouse Gas Waiver Request (pdf) (June 19, 2008)
- Whether the Department of Justice May Prosecute White House Officials for Contempt of Congress (Feb 29, 2008)
- Assertion of Executive Privilege Concerning the Dismissal and Replacement of U.S. Attorneys (June 27, 2007)
- Authority of Agency Officials To Prohibit Employees from Providing Information to Congress (May 21, 2004)
- Letter for the President from John Ashcroft, Attorney General, Re: Assertion of Executive Privilege with Respect to Prosecutorial Documents (Dec. 10, 2001)
- Linder Letter re open Justice Department investigations (pdf) (Jan. 27, 2000)
- Assertion of Executive Privilege With Respect To Clemency Decision (Sept. 16, 1999)
- Whistleblower Protections for Classified Disclosures (May 20, 1998)
- Assertion of Executive Privilege for Documents Concerning Conduct of Foreign Affairs with Respect to Haiti (Sept. 20, 1996)
- Presidential Certification Regarding the Provision of Documents to the House of Representatives Under the Mexican Debt Disclosure Act of 1995 (June 28, 1996)
- Assertion of Executive Privilege Regarding White House Counsel’s Office Documents (May 23, 1996)
- Applicability of Executive Privilege to Deliberations Regarding Assertion of Privilege (pdf) (Sept. 11, 1996)
- Congressional Requests for Confidential Executive Branch Information (June 19, 1989)
- Congressional Requests for Information from Inspectors General Concerning Open Criminal Investigations (Mar. 24, 1989)
- Response to Congressional Requests for Information Regarding Decisions Made Under the Independent Counsel Act, 10 Op. O.L.C. 68, 78 (Apr. 28, 1986)
- Congressional Subpoenas of Department of Justice Investigative Files (pdf) (Oct. 17, 1984)
- Prosecution for Contempt of Congress of an Executive Branch Official Who Has Asserted a Claim of Executive Privilege (May 30, 1984)
- History of Refusals by Executive Branch Officials to Provide Information Demanded by Congress-Part 2 (Jan. 27, 1983)
- History of Refusals by Executive Branch Officials to Provide Information Demanded by Congress-Part 1 (Dec. 14, 1982)
- Assertion of Executive Privilege in Response to Congressional Demands for Law Enforcement Files (pdf) (Nov. 30, 1982)
- Procedures Governing Responses to Congressional Requests for Information (Nov. 4, 1982)
- Authority of Senate Committee Staff to Depose Executive Branch Officers (pdf) (Aug. 4, 1982)
- Confidentiality of the Attorney General’s Communications in Counseling the President (pdf) (Aug. 2, 1982)
- Congressional Demand for Deposition of Counsel to the President Fred F. Fielding (July 23, 1982)
- Assertion of Executive Privilege in Response to a Congressional Subpoena (Oct. 13, 1981)
- Conflict of Interest Problems Arising out of the President’s Nomination of Nelson A. Rockefeller to be Vice President under the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the Constitution (Aug 28, 1974)
- Power of Congressional Committee to Compel Appearance or Testimony of ‘White House Staff’ (Feb. 5, 1971)
- Presidential Authority to Direct the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers Not to Comply With a Congressional Subpoena Seeking Testimony About Private Activities (Feb. 19, 1952)
- Position of the Executive Department Regarding Investigative Reports (Apr. 30, 1941)
Analysis of OLC Opinions
- 2022 POGO letter, Improving Transparency and Accountability at the Office of Legal Counsel
- 2022 article, William Ford from Protect Democracy, What Might a Congressional Counterpart to the Office of Legal Counsel Look Like?, Lawfare (May 17, 2022)
- 2020 law review article by Prof. Emily Berman, Weaponizing the OLC
- 2019 Washington Post article by Prof. Kel McClanahan, How one secretive Justice Department office can sway the whole government