Hauled Before A Senate Sub Committee
Jack Ryan: Who authorized this?
Ritter: I'm sure they'll ask you that.
Jack Ryan: Who authorized it?
"I have no recollection, Senator."
The United States Congress is one of the most powerful legislative bodies on the planet. It has an oversight capacity that is quite simply huge and investigates pretty much every aspect of American government policy though a system of permanent and ad-hoc committees. These committees have the power to issue subpoenas and compel relevant officials to testify under oath. While most often rather boring and tedious for most involved at times they've become high political theater with some instances (HUAC
) becoming etched in modern history. Of course the members of the committee
have a tendency to act like every last one of these committees is of the utmost
Thus if they are at all connected to the government our heroes can count on having to answer to Congress at some point or another for their actions. While matters such as government corruption, terrorism, or military operations are close to Truth in Television
, you more likely will see congressional oversight committees dealing with everything from the undead to alien species.
Even when not in play directly this trope may affect a work, as the bosses try to avert being hauled in for a hearing by sweet talking some senator or representative. Most often the chair of the committee in question. So this is why you see a senator getting a guided tour of the Elaborate Underground Base
. Just make sure the committee's head isn't in bed with a high ranking executive of the company they are meant to be investigating.
Or otherwise working with the villains.
Despite the name trope also covers investigations carried out by other legislatures, real or fictional. For example, the British Parliament
has permanent Select Committees that investigate certain areas, including public accounts. Some examples might not even be legislatures, as long as its the nominal governing body with a committee.
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- Steve Rogers (Captain America) faces the Committee on Super Human Activities, who demand that he work only for them since the U.S. government legally owns the CA identity. He quits instead. (And his replacement, John Walker, is such a jerk, he nearly ruins the reputation of Captain America; still, Walker later becomes a somewhat decent hero later as U.S. Agent.)
- Tony Stark (Iron Man) faces a senate committee himself in a 1960s story and the questioning proves so long and arduous that Stark collapses on the stand. When an attending doctor opens Stark's shirt, finds his chestplate/external pacemaker and it is finally exposed to the world that the tycoon is a very sick man.
- Watchmen: Several of the original Minutemen are dragged in front of the (once-real) House Un-American Activities Committee. Hooded Justice refuses to participate and vanished without trace. To the story's modern day (1985) nobody knows who he was.
- the prequel, Before Watchmen, eventually reveals he was framed for several crimes by The Comedian and killed in battle with the other Watchmen
- The Justice Society of America (the Justice League's predecessors) were called before a committee and accused of being Communist sympathizers. Depending on the continuity, this may have been the actual Senator McCarthy or a substitute. They chose to disband and retire rather than comply with the new Super Registration Act. Later, we get to see an alternate universe where the JSA did sign up. (It didn't end well.)
- In a tie-in with Infinite Crisis, Superman gets to experience this moment during something of a "Freaky Friday" Flip with his Earth-2 counterpart Kal-L. Where the other Society members refuse to reveal their identities, Superman does and states that he's ashamed to be an American because it got this far.
- Most of the plot of Kitty Goes To Washington, the second book of the series. In the first book, the Masquerade was broken, revealing the existence of vampires and werewolves to the general public, in large part by Kitty herself. In the second book, the Senate wants details straight from the source.
- In a Brad Thor novel, a conniving Democratic senator tries to get Scot Harvath up before one of these, just so she can humiliate the President and get herself into the Presidency. She nearly succeeds due to her having a affair with a CIA member who gives her all the classififed info. Fortunately, she gets caught and is forced from office while her little source of info gets a hefty jail sentence.
- In the Wild Cards books, the Red Scare of The Fifties was supplemented by a fear of super-powered Aces, resulting in the Senate Committee on Ace Resources and Activities (SCARE). The committee's ruthless attacks on Aces parallel McCarthyism.
Live Action TV
- Jack Bauer appears before a Senate Committee at the beginning of Day Seven.
- In the Expanded Universe, David Palmer used his influence in such a sub-committee to authorise "Operation Nightfall". A House Committee investigated the events of Day One and the report was "leaked" to form a book called 24: The Official Investigation.
- The Unit
- JAG. The first Secretary of the Navy in the series, Alexander Nelson, gets called before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to answer for his unauthorized intelligence activities carried out by JAG lawyers and not by intelligence professionals. Ironically enough, the Chairman of the Committee, Edward Sheffield, ends up becoming his successor.
- Airwolf has Archangel showing the eponymous chopper to a congressional demonstration when Dr. Moffett steals it, killing several people and blinding Archangel in one eye.
- Stargate SG-1: Senator Kinsey, who chairs the committee that sets the SGC's budget. A later episode has Hammond figure out why Kinsey is pushing for the Stargate to be handed over to the NID when he learns he's moved to the committee that directly controls that.
- Later episodes incude other instances, including one involving a subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations before which General Landry and Vala Mal Doran appear. Vala accuses the chairman of the Committee of Compensating for Something; Landry is not amused.
- The West Wing has several arcs where Josh, Leo and almost every other character was dragged to testify before a committee or another.
- From the episode Ways and Means:
C.J.: Leo, we need to be investigated by someone who wants to kill us just to watch us die. We need someone perceived by the American people to be irresponsible, untrustworthy, partisan, ambitious and thirsty for the limelight. Am I crazy or is this not a job for the U.S. House of Representatives?
- Wiseguy. Happens twice to Vinnie Terranova, first to report on the CIA's use of Arms Dealer Mel Profitt to take over a communist nation, then when he was used as the scapegoat for a Government Conspiracy to ruin the Japanese economy with counterfeit yen. As the senator who cross-examined him on the first occasion turned out to be involved in the second conspiracy, it was definitely a case of "I'm sure they'll ask you that."
- Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister both occasionally called for Hacker or Sir Humphrey to be called before a Select Committee of Parliament, where their stories would frequently do one another no good. On the other hand, the one time they showed up together, it was apparently a victory for the both of them.
- The UK also has "public inquiries". In one episode of Yes, Prime Minister Sir Humphrey told Hacker there would be a public inquiry into recent leaks. Hacker replied "I don't want a public inquiry! I want to find out who's responsible!"
- Dollhouse features a US Senator, Daniel Perrin, who is investigating Rossum Corporation and plans to use Mellie (the former "November") as a star witness. Worried that his attractive blonde wife is in fact an Active, Paul Ballard goes over to their house and uses a device that renders Actives highly dazed and gives them nosebleeds. It has no effect on her, but then the horrible truth is revealed... the senator is the Active.
- In The X-Files two-part episode "Tunguska" and "Terma," Agent Scully is forced to testify before a Senate committee about the death of a diplomat who'd been carrying black oil in a diplomatic pouch. When she refuses to disclose Agent Mulder's whereabouts, she's briefly jailed for contempt. Needless to say perhaps, the committee is orchestrated by The Syndicate.
- One episode of Quantum Leap ("Honeymoon Express") revolves around Al's being called before a subcommittee to account for the doings of Project Quantum Leap. The committee is incredulous at his testimony at first and threatens to cut off their funding, so Al tries to get Sam to do something in the past that will show that he's actually back there and they're not just lying to get funding. Turns out in the leap Sam is in, he helped a young woman gain confidence to become a lawyer and later run for congress. This causes the Hanging Senator chairing the hearing to suddenly be replaced by a future version of the woman Sam helped, who approves more funding for the project.
- In the first episode of Fringe season 2 (A New Day in the Old Town), Broyles is called to Washington to appear before a Senate subcommittee. They tell him that the lack of definitive results produced by the Fringe Division is unacceptable, and are poised to shut the division down until Peter gives them a broken shapeshifting device used by the shapeshifter who killed Charlie. Subverted across most of the rest of the series where over-seeing Senators, and pretty much all other authority figures, are almost refreshingly reasonable. At one point in Season 4 Agent Broyles even volunteers to turn a world-changing decision over to the relevant committee, only for them to hand it right back to the joint Fringe Team/Division experts. At the end of the series Broyles is hauled before the Senator . . . who blandly congratulates him on a job well done and pours resources on him.
- This happened to the FYI crew in an episode of Murphy Brown.
- 30 Rock has Jack Donaghy brought before House committees to defend NBC's commitment to diversity and later the takeover by Kabletown.
- "The Rundown Job" on Leverage starts with a colonel before a congressional committee about teams he's put together to take care of various threats, but which crossed agency lines without authorization. He's warned not to do it again, and so when a terrorist threat against Washington, D.C. comes up, he turns to the Leverage team to handle it.
- Due to the fallout from the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode opens with Maria Hill just exiting a Congressional hearing, talking on the phone with her new boss, Pepper Potts before being drawn into a confrontational discussion with Melinda May.
- Homeland had one in the third season.
- The last season of The Thick of It culminated in an inquiry on the culture of leaking in government, leading to Malcolm Tucker's downfall
- This happened to Rat in a Pearls Before Swine arc when he marketed a "weight loss method" that consisted of climbing into a cardboard box and remaining inside until they lost weight.
- Also happened to Opus in Bloom County; he ends up literally getting labelled a liberal (multiple times..)
- In Super Munchkin, one of the curse cards ("traps" in Super Munchkin's terminology) is a congressional hearing, which is rather costly on the victim.
- This was the focus of an entire episode of Celebrity Deathmatch, which combined the elements of a Clip Show and a Take That directed at several current members of Congress, including Ted Kennedy (who orchestrated the whole thing), Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Trent Lott, Orrin Hatch, Phil Gramm, Richard Shelby, and Strom Thurmond. Nick and Johnny were arguing about the show's violent content, and after the Senate actually ruled in their favor, Kennedy - who opposed that ruling - went nuts, beat the crap out of most of the rest of the Senate, and then got his ass kicked by Steve Austin. (It's a weird show.)
- The Dilbert animated series has Dogbert persuading Congress to consolidate all holidays into a single holiday - Dogbert Day.
Truth In Television
- Any large-scale administrative or governmental cock-up in a democratic society will almost invariably end up in front of one of these or their functional equivalent. Whether they're actually convened to deal with a problem, or simply an opportunity for the opposition to grandstand, is a crap shoot.
- The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, currently headed by Dianne Feinstein, a notable James Bond fan.
- As mentioned under the Yes, Minister example, the UK has public inquiries, the UK equivalent. While it's often used for planning large-scale construction like highways, the more notable handle the same duties as the Senate Sub Committees, such as public transport disasters or outbreaks of E-Coli.