When Congress investigates, even the most sophisticated businesses feel as though they have fallen through the looking glass. Such investigations can have devastating implications for the course of law enforcement and other executive branch investigations, a company’s public image, filed or contemplated civil lawsuits, and a company’s business and regulatory interests involving the government.
Whether advising companies on how to appropriately respond to a congressional inquiry or subpoena, preparing and representing witnesses in connection with congressional testimony, interacting with an investigating committee, or managing the legal, policy, political, or public relations considerations outside of the investigating committee, Sidley Austin’s Congressional Investigations team has the necessary resources to help a client navigate this complex terrain.
Sidley was one of the first national firms to establish a significant presence in Washington, D.C. and has practiced law in the nation’s capital since the late 1960s. Since then, the firm’s lawyers have handled an array of congressional probes, including for clients caught up in many of the major political scandals of the past four decades. We possess the necessary combination of legal skill, political judgment, and applicable experience to handle the most difficult such matters ably.
Understanding the Landscape
Sidley has extensive experience with the Congressional committees that have investigative jurisdiction and their staffs in both Houses of Congress. Our team understands the players in both political parties, the political and policy context in which they are asking their questions, and how they are likely to react to various tactics and strategies our clients might adopt in response. We also take into account the potential effects of election cycles, news cycles, and the congressional calendar, which can also have an important impact on those strategies.
Sidley’s lawyers design strategies that take into account the practical likelihood that subpoenas can be issued or successfully enforced, the external deadlines or timeframes under which the investigating committees are operating, committee resource constraints, the views and dispositions of individual committee members, and the political balance of forces in the relevant chambers.
Our teams are also experienced in considering the ways in which press coverage can affect the strategies of both sides, and in working closely with its clients and with leading public relations firms, to help anticipate and mitigate the effects of such coverage. Sidley’s Government Strategies group members have deep congressional experience and ensure that our legal strategies are appropriately complemented and bolstered by optimal political and public relations strategies.
Preparing Witnesses to Testify
Sidley has extensive experience preparing company CEOs and others to testify before Congress. We are able to anticipate the likely questions that will arise at hearings based, in part, on the personal knowledge and direct congressional experience of members of Sidley’s team, including former Congressman Rick Boucher, a 28-year veteran of the House of Representatives. We develop briefing books, Q&A documents, opening statements, and statements for the record to assist witnesses in preparing and testifying. We also help train witnesses on how to answer the kinds of questions they may expect from congressmen and senators, which often differ from those in a typical legal proceeding.
Mitigating Collateral Consequences
Congressional investigations carry with them unusually high risks of sparking other kinds of investigations and claims. A congressional appearance that goes poorly can spin off regulatory or other investigations within the executive branch, as well as civil lawsuits by private litigants or by the federal or state governments. It can also prompt formal criminal referrals to the Department of Justice, either for suspected underlying criminal activity or for lying to Congress. Mitigating these risks and avoiding such collateral impacts is one of the important ways in which Sidley’s integrated congressional investigation teams, which include professionals from the firm’s White Collar and Government Strategies groups, help protect clients.
Sidley’s Congressional Investigations Practice
Sidley’s Congressional Investigation team combines the strength of our Government Strategies, White Collar Litigation and various regulated industries practices to give clients a team that:
- Has experience with congressional investigations from both the Congressional and respondent side. Former Congressman, Rick Boucher, served as a senior Member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, where he chaired two subcommittees.
- Knows how to develop an appropriate tone in managing the process with congressional investigators.
- Has experience preparing clients to testify in high-stakes matters, helping them avoid perjury traps and advising them on invoking constitutional rights and privileges.
- Uses its legal skills and understanding of the process and the key players and their motivations to identify the substantive, policy and political landscape, and develop strategies to resolve the issue at hand and mitigate collateral consequences.
- Can access Sidley teams with substantive experience in underlying areas of law and regulation as diverse as healthcare, food and drug, energy, environmental, privacy and data security, banking and financial regulation, government contracts, SEC disclosure, and export controls and trade sanctions.
Our team comprises lawyers who have extensive experience in both Congress and the Executive branch. In addition to former Congressman Boucher, the group includes alumni of investigative committee staffs who participated in many congressional investigations. Our team also includes executive branch veterans who have dealt with Congress on behalf of the White House and other federal agencies.
We also have lawyers who hold the highest levels of security clearance and have practiced before congressional intelligence committees. These resources give Sidley a robust understanding of legislative and executive branch perspectives, including how executive branch agencies and Inspectors General are likely to respond to requests for further, formal inquiries and what collateral consequences may flow from such inquiries.
Our experience spans a wide range of investigative subject matters, Congressional investigating committees, and client types, including corporations and their executives, individual private citizens, and public officials. In the past, Sidley has represented:
- Wells Fargo & Co. in a high-profile congressional inquiry into alleged sales-practice violations.
- The former CEO of Freddie Mac in connection with Congressional hearings and other matters arising out of the financial crisis and appointment of a conservator at Freddie Mac.
- An individual subpoenaed by the House Select Committee on Benghazi as part of the Committee’s investigation into the events surrounding the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya.
- An internet classified advertisement platform facing Congressional inquiries into its content filtering policies and procedures.
- One of the world’s largest automotive parts companies through a congressional investigation conducted by both the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Commerce Committee.
- The U.S. Attorney General’s former Chief of Staff, in connection with investigations conducted by the Senate Judiciary Committee, including joint House/Senate depositions and televised Senate hearings, into the termination of certain U.S. Attorneys.
- A major defense contractor in a Senate Armed Services Committee investigation into the use of private subcontractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.
- A leading trade association in connection with a Congressional inquiry into marketing practices and the regulatory framework involving the industry it represents.
- A leading pharmaceutical manufacturer in connection with a Congressional inquiry into its marketing practices.
- A leading biotechnology firm in connection with a Congressional inquiry into the pricing of certain of the company’s products.
- An agricultural company and its chief executive in Congressional hearings relating to a food recall stemming from an outbreak of infection.
- A major industrial company in a Congressional probe of the impacts of the new healthcare law on public company financial reporting.
- A leading private investment entity in connection with a Congressional inquiry into issues relating to programs used by the federal government to encourage lending and investment after the financial crisis.
- The president and government of a sovereign country in connection with a U.S. Senate investigation of alleged money laundering and related banking offenses at Riggs Bank.
- A prominent local lobbying firm as well as an individual in connection with separate Congressional and DOJ investigations of alleged gratuities paid to Members of Congress.
- The government of a sovereign country in connection with a Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation of offshore tax shelters.