Additional oversight materials

Panel on Congressional Oversight Databases 

May 27, 2020 Levin Center/Wayne Law Review panel discussion of 3 databases with congressional oversight hearings, correspondence, and related materials

Oversight Overview

In 2018, Senator Carl Levin and Elise Bean co-authored an article for Volume 64, No. 1 of the Wayne Law Review

In 2018, Elise Bean published a book describing oversight practices at the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations

State Level Oversight

In 2018 the Levin Center at Wayne Law commissioned a study of each state legislature's capacity to conduct oversight of its executive branch and the extent to which each state uses that capacity.  The study was conducted by the Center for Urban Studies (CUS) at Wayne State University.  Findings from this report were discussed in an October 2019 webinar.

Other information related to state level oversight follows.

Project On Government Oversight

The Project On Government Oversight is a partner of the Levin Center at Wayne Law, providing additional oversight resources and  training for congressional staff. 

KYC360 webinars on PSI investigations

KYC360, a web-based service providing news, information, and instruction on anti-money laundering, corruption and financial crime issues, has produced a series of four, one-hour webinars on seminal money laundering investigations conducted by Sen. Carl Levin through the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, available free. 

Inspector general reports

The Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency provides a free, searchable website containing oversight reports issued by Inspectors General fighting waste, fraud and abuse at federal agencies.

Working with whistleblowers

The Government Accountability Project, a nonpartisan nonprofit, provides a free set of materials related to working with whistleblowers.

Other information on working with whistleblowers follows.


Guide to Oversight Procedural Rules in the U.S. House of Representatives (Co-Equal, 2019)

When Congress Comes Calling: A Study on the Principles, Practices, and Pragmatics of Legislative Inquiry, Morton Rosenberg (The Constitution Project, 2017)

The Art of Congressional Oversight:  A User's Guide to Doing It Right by the Project on Government Oversight (Second Edition, 2015)

Congressional Oversight Manual, Congressional Research Service, Alissa M. Dolan, Elaine Halchin, Todd Garvey, Walter J. Oleszek, Wendy Ginsberg, CRS No. 7-5700, RL30240 (Dec. 19, 2014)


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. 

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).

Authority of Congress to Investigate

McCain v. Daugherty, 273 U.S. 135 (1927)("[T]he power of inquiry—with process to enforce it—is an essential and appropriate auxiliary to the legislative function. … A legislative body cannot legislate wisely or effectively in the absence of information respecting the conditions which the legislation is intended to affect or change; and where the legislative body does not itself possess the requisite information – which not infrequently is true – recourse must be had to others who do possess it. Experience has taught that mere requests for such information often are unavailing, and also that information which is volunteered is not always accurate or complete; so some means of compulsion are essential to obtain what is needed.")

Watkins v. United States, 354 U.S. 178 (1957)("The power of Congress to conduct investigations is inherent in the legislative process. That power is broad. It encompasses inquiries concerning the administration of existing laws as well as proposed or possibly needed statutes. It includes surveys of defects in our social, economic or political system for the purpose of enabling Congress to remedy them. It comprehends probes into departments of the federal government to expose corruption, inefficiency or waste. … There is no general authority to expose the private affairs of individuals without justifications in terms of the functions of Congress … Nor is the Congress a law enforcement or trial agency. No inquiry is an end in itself; it must be related to, and in furtherance of, a legitimate task of the Congress.")

Eastland v. U.S. Servicemen's Fund, 421 U.S. 491 (1975)("The scope of [Congress'] power of inquiry … is as penetrating and far-reaching as the potential power to enact and appropriate under the Constitution.")

Congressional subpoenas

Anderson v. Dunn, 19 U.S. 204 (1821)(Holding Congress has inherent authority to hold persons in contempt and impose punishment on them, including imprisonment, otherwise Congress would be "exposed to every indignity and interruption that rudeness, caprice or even conspiracy may mediate against it.")

Townsend v. United States, 95 F.2d 352 (D.C. Cir.), cert. denied, 303 U.S. 665 (1938)("A legislative inquiry may be as broad, as searching, and as exhaustive as is necessary to make effective the constitutional powers of Congress…A judicial inquiry relates to a case, and the evidence to be admissible must be measured by the narrow limits of the pleadings. A legislative inquiry anticipates all possible cases which may arise thereunder and the evidence admissible must be responsive to the scope of the inquiry which generally is very broad.")

Wilkinson v. United States, 365 U.S. 399, 408-409 (1961)(Upholding House subpoena, because (1) it involved matters the committee was "authorized" by Congress to investigate; (2) the investigation had "a valid legislative purpose;" and (3) the requested information was "pertinent to the subject matter of the investigation.")

Senate Select Committee on Ethics v. Packwood, 845 F. Supp. 17 (D.D.C. 1994), stay pending appeal denied, 510 U.S. 1319 (1994)(Upholding Senate subpoena for a senator's personal diary despite objections that the request was overbroad and violated his Fourth Amendment right to privacy and Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination)

Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations v. Ferrer, 199 F.Supp.3d 125 (D.D.C. 2016); Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations v. Ferrer, 856 F.3d 1080 (D.C. Cir. 2017) (upholding Senate subpoena despite multiple objections, including that it was overbroad and infringed upon free speech)

Trump v. Committee on Oversight and Reform, __ F.Supp.3d ___, Case No. 19-cv-01136 (APM) (D.D.C. May 20, 2019)(upholding House subpoena to an accounting firm, Mazars, despite objections by President Trump that requesting his financial records had no legislative purpose and impermissibly targeted activities prior to his taking office as president)

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.

Executive privilege

Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities v. Nixon, 498 F. 2d 725 (D.C. Cir. 1974) (Denying subpoena for President Nixon's tapes because insufficient showing of need and demand was "too tangential" to committee's function for court to force president to comply with subpoena.)

United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683 (1974) (Rejection of executive privilege claim by President Nixon to subpoena for his tapes by special prosecutor, weighing the importance of the privilege against the need for "fair administration of criminal justice.")

In Re Sealed Case (Espy) 121 F. 3d 729 (D.C. Cir. 1997) (distinguishing between "presidential communication privilege" and "deliberative process privilege" and finding that the former applies to direct decision-making by the president, is constitutionally based, and requires a higher showing of need than the deliberative process privilege which applies to agency heads, is common law based, and disappears if there is a showing of wrongdoing.)

Committee on Judiciary, U.S. House of Representatives, v. Miers, 558 F. Supp. 2d 53 (D.D.C. 2008) ("The executive's current claim of absolute immunity  [from compelled congressional process] for senior presidential aides is without any support in the case law… Clear precedent and persuasive policy reasons confirm that the executive cannot be the judge of its own privilege and hence Ms. Miers is not entitled to absolute immunity from compelled congressional process.")

Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, U.S. House of Representatives v. Loretta Lynch, Case No. 12-1332, 156 F. Supp. 3d 101 (D.D.C. Jan. 19, 2016) ("The deliberative process privilege is a qualified privilege that can be overcome by a sufficient showing of need for the material. ... This need determination is to be made flexibly on a case-by-case, ad hoc basis."); Mem. Op. and Order (D.D.C. Oct. 22, 2018)(denying a motion to vacate the 2016 court order so that no precedent would be established)

Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel, memos on congressional requests for information

Assertion of Executive Privilege in Response to a Congressional Subpoena, Oct. 13, 1981

Confidentiality of the Attorney General's Communications in Counseling the President, Aug. 2, 1982

Assertion of Executive Privilege in Response to Congressional Demands for Law Enforcement Files, Nov. 30, 1982

Prosecution for Contempt of Congress of an Executive Branch Official Who Has Asserted a Claim of Executive Privilege, May 30, 1984

Applicability of Executive Privilege to Deliberations Regarding Assertion of Privilege, Sept. 11, 1996

Assertion of Executive Privilege Concerning the Special Counsel's Interviews of the Vice President and Senior White House Staff, July 15, 2008

Assertion of Executive Privilege over Documents Generated in Response to Congressional Investigation into Operation Fast and Furious, June 19, 2012

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, June 7, 2017

Testimonial Immunity Before Congress of the Former Counsel to the President, May 20, 2019

Attempted Exclusion of Agency Counsel from Congressional Depositions of Agency Employees, May 23, 2019

Congressional Committee's Request for the President's Tax Returns Under 26 U.S.C. § 6103(f), June 13, 2019

Panel Discussions on Case Law Related to Congressional Oversight

2020 Levin Center Panel on Emerging Case Law on Congressional Oversight

Oversight Precedents

Examples of White House cooperation with congressional oversight (Co-Equal Resources: Guide to Congressional Oversight Precedent)


Financial Exposure: Carl Levin's Senate Investigations into Finance and Tax Abuse, Elise Bean (Palgrave MacMillan, 2018)

Congress's Constitution: Legislative Authority and the Separation of Powers, Josh Chafetz (Yale University Press, 2017)

Investigating the President: Congressional Checks on Presidential PowerDouglas L. Kriner and Eric Schickler (Princeton University Press 2016)

The American Senate:  An Insider's History, Neil MacNeil and Richard A. Baker (Oxford University Press 2013), Chapters 9 & 10

The Investigator: Fifty Years of Uncovering the Truth, Terry Lenzner (Blue Rider Press, Penguin Group, 2013)

The Last Great Senate: Courage and Statesmanship In Times of Crisis, Ira Shapiro (Perseus Books Group, 2012)

Congress Investigates: A Critical and Documentary History, editors Roger A. Bruns, David L. Hostetter, and Raymond W. Smock (Facts on File, 2011), Volumes 1-2

Oversight: Representing the Interests of Blacks and Latinos in Congress, Michael D. Minta (Oxford University Press 2011)

Congressional Investigations and Oversight: Case Studies and Analysis, Lance Cole and Stanley M. Brand (Carolina Academic Press, 2010)

The Waxman Report:  How Congress Really Works by Congressman Henry Waxman (Twelve, 2009)

Men of Zeal: A Candid Inside Story of the Iran-Contra Hearings, U.S. Sens. William S. Cohen and George J. Mitchell (Penguin Books, 1989) 

The Power to Probe: A Study of Congressional Investigations, James Hamilton (Random House, 1976)

The Truman Committee: A Study in Congressional Responsibility, Donald H. Riddle (Rutgers University Press, 1964)

Grand Inquest: The Story of Congressional Investigations, Telford Taylor (Ballantine Books, 1961)

Reports, Articles, and Interviews

'Lock me up': The last man arrested for defying a congressional inquiry (Washington Post, Dec. 3, 2019)

How Congress got its power to investigate and subpoena (Washington Post, March 12, 2019)

Target of the first congressional probe in U.S. history? George Washington, of course (Washington Post, Jan. 19, 2019)  

Improving Bipartisanship in High-Profile Congressional Investigations (Federalist Society 2019)

Members of Congress Job Description (including oversight) (Congressional Management Foundation 2018)

Congressional Government Oversight Panel (Brookings Institution, Oct. 3, 2018)   

Using FOIA and public databases to track down DoD contracts (Muckrock, August 24, 2018)

GOP Senator Grassley says oversight is fundamental for a functioning federal government (The Hill, July 10, 2018)

Congress: The sleeping watchdog (The Hill, Dec. 6, 2017)

Necessary and Proper: Best Practices for Congressional Investigations  (Project on Government Oversight, June 7, 2017)

Constitution: Oversight by Congress is Critical (The Hill, Feb. 7, 2017)

Investigating the Financial Crisis (PDF) by Elise J. Bean (2016)

The Legacy of Carl Levin (The American Prospect, Dec. 30, 2014)

Corporate world won't miss Levin (Politico, Sept. 11, 2014)

Congressional Investigations of the Department of Justice, 1920-2012: History, Law, and Practice (Congressional Research Service, November 5, 2012).

The Impact of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations on Federal Policy, (21 Georgia Law Review 17, 21 (Special Issue 1986), Sen. Sam Nunn)    

1976: Mike Wallace on Detroit corruption (interview with Carl Levin), ("60 Minutes," CBS, April 18, 1976)