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5 Things You Need to Know about Testifying Before Congress

Dr. Nick Oberheiden
Attorney Nick Oberheiden
Testifying Before Congress
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There’s a lot to know when you testify before a congressional committee. You’re walking into completely uncharted territory. There will be new rules to learn and certain etiquette to follow.

If you need advice regarding a congressional hearing or testifying before Congress, please contact Oberheiden P.C. immediately. Understanding the rules and procedures of congressional committees can be challenging. Every committee has its own rules and procedures.

At Oberheiden P.C., we will help bridge this gap. Our attorneys have frequently advised and coached our clients on attending governmental investigations. We will help you navigate through the procedures and politics of Congress to ensure smooth sailing.

There are many different things to learn about congressional hearings, so you don’t walk into that investigation blindfolded.

Here are five important things to know before testifying to a congressional committee.

1. Who Speaks at a Congressional Hearing?

During a criminal proceeding, your lawyer speaks for you. As a defendant, unless you take the stand and testify you never speak. Your lawyer gives the opening statement, interrogates the witnesses, etc. During a civil proceeding, it is the same. Unless you testify, you also never speak. Your lawyer does.

But during a congressional hearing, you speak – not your lawyer.

You give your opening statement. The committee members ask you the questions and you are the one who responds, not your lawyer.

You may be anxious about this. However, know that you know the most about your subject. Whether you are testifying as a witness, as an individual championing a cause, or as the owner or employee of a business, you know the most about it. There’s no one better.

And never fear. Just because you are the one speaking, that does not mean you are alone. Our attorneys at Oberheiden, P.C. will help advise you on answers to anticipated questions and how to approach each topic. And we’ll still be there next to you.

Put our highly experienced team on your side

Dr. Nick Oberheiden
Dr. Nick Oberheiden

Founder

Attorney-at-Law

Lynette S. Byrd
Lynette S. Byrd

Former DOJ Trial Attorney

Partner

Brian J. Kuester
Brian J. Kuester

Former U.S. Attorney

Amanda Marshall
Amanda Marshall

Former U.S. Attorney

Local Counsel

Joe Brown
Joe Brown

Former U.S. Attorney

Local Counsel

John W. Sellers
John W. Sellers

Former Senior DOJ Trial Attorney

Linda Julin McNamara
Linda Julin McNamara

Federal Appeals Attorney

Aaron L. Wiley
Aaron L. Wiley

Former DOJ attorney

Local Counsel

Roger Bach
Roger Bach

Former Special Agent (DOJ)

Chris Quick
Chris J. Quick

Former Special Agent (FBI & IRS-CI)

Michael S. Koslow
Michael S. Koslow

Former Supervisory Special Agent (DOD-OIG)

Ray Yuen
Ray Yuen

Former Supervisory Special Agent (FBI)

2. What Happens at a Congressional Committee Hearing?

Because every committee has its own rules, what happens during the congressional hearing can vary.

Generally, the chair of the committee will give an opening statement followed by the ranking minority leader and some other members of the committee. After, you (the witness) will be able to give an opening statement. Then the committee members will begin asking you their questions, after which you will give your answers.

Many of these questions will be repetitive or at least the same question but worded differently. So don’t worry if you feel like you answered the same question three different times when asked by three different committee members. That is normal and expected. Our experienced attorneys will help you prepare answers to the committee members’ questions so that you can answer confidently and accurately.

3. Are Congressional Hearings Public?

Yes.

Congressional hearings are not clandestine hearings taking place in the dead of night with just you and the members of Congress with no other witnesses. Rather congressional committee hearings are open to the public and media.

Both the Senate rules and the House rules state that the committee or subcommittee hearings can be open to the public. Further, these hearings can also be broadcast on the radio or television.

There are some topics, however, that need to be secret. Both the House and Senate rules allow for such exceptions to public hearings. Examples of these exceptions include issues that:

  • Involve national security or defense
  • Implicate confidential foreign relations information
  • Subject an individual to defamation, misconduct, or incrimination
  • Contain sensitive information concerning law enforcement, an investigation, or prosecution
  • Involve internal committee matters regarding staff or management
  • Invade an individual’s privacy unnecessarily

This can be a double-edged sword for your and your company. On the positive end, you’re not being called into the shadows to testify alone without any witnesses. There is public accountability for the congressional committee because the American public can see what is being investigated and why.

On the negative end, this means that there can be bad publicity for your company. If the media is permitted to observe the hearing, then this might affect your company’s reputation and goodwill even more than just being subject to the hearing.

4. How Much Time Do I Have to Talk?

It depends. Every committee and subcommittee have their own rules. Generally, the committee chairman is the first to speak and then usually the ranking member speaks. You will also be given time to give your opening statement. Each committee member will then get a chance to speak and ask you questions. You will then be permitted to respond.

From the opening statements to the questions of the committee members to your responses – all of these have set time limits. At Oberheiden P.C., our attorneys and professionals know the different rules and practices of congressional committees.

So, we will know what your time limits are, and we can help you formulate answers to the committee members’ questions. This way you never run out of time and always get your point across to the fullest.

5. How Political are Congressional Investigations?

Short answer? Very political.

One of the reasons for almost everything the government does is politics. Congressional investigations are no different. The topics of the congressional hearings will vary depending on which party has the majority. Therefore, you are most likely there as a result of a political move at the behest of the party with the majority.

Therefore, you’ll notice that the tone of the questions will change depending on what party the committee member belongs to. The members will probably each recite a short monologue before they start asking their questions. Their tone may be rude or accusatory – or it may be very friendly. You might even be able to tell whether the members are for or against you or your cause.

Try not to get caught up in their politics. In addition to the investigation or hearing, another objective of theirs is to appeal toward their constituents – especially if they are up for re-election soon. So, if they get accusatory or hostile, remain calm and respectful. The only thing for you to worry about is answering their questions truthfully and satisfactorily.

Get in Touch with the Congressional Subpoena Lawyers at Oberheiden P.C.

At Oberheiden P.C., we can help prepare you for your hearing. Contact our office today.

Oberheiden P.C. is a leading national law firm in the areas of compliance, defense, and litigation. Our legal team has an extensive background in representing clients who are subject to governmental subpoenas, inquiries, and hearings.

Contact our offices today and get a free consultation.

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