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, Watergate) 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 importance.
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 in 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.
In Clear and Present Danger (as seen in the page quote), Ritter explains to Jack Ryan exactly what his answers will be if / when Ritter finds himself Hauled Before A Senate Sub Committee. At the end of the film, Jack goes before a subcommittee to report on the events of the movie.
Of course, Ritter's "Get out of Jail Free" Card is signed by the person who authorized it, so he pretty much has to name who was responsible if he wants to stay out of jail.
Interestingly, the book has everything being entirely legal, with the exception that when Jack does get to the subcommittee, he would be giving them false information based on the briefings that he received from his superiors. He even lampshades the whole process of government by saying "Everything that's happened only becomes murder retroactively if something extraneous to the murder does not happen. Who made up this bullshit process, anyway?"
The Senate Committee on Organized Crime plays a huge role in The Godfather, Part II. One of Michael's former Capos threatens to go state's evidence, until Michael brings his Italian brother to watch, which shames the Capo enough that he not only recants his testimony in public, he commits suicide. As an added bonus, they frame a Senator for killing a hooker, and that same Senator stands up and gives a hilariously over-the-top speech about the contributions of Italian-Americans.
Dick Goodwin, one of the main characters of Quiz Show (Very Loosely Based on a True Story) is a young lawyer with a House oversight committee who cajoles his boss into investigating rigged TV game shows. The congressional hearings are the setting for the Charles Van Doren's confession that he's been cheating at the climax of the film and for Herbert Stempel's attempts to vindicate himself by exposing the network. It ends up being as much about the flaws in the system as anything, illustrated by details like the head of the committee covering his microphone to reminisce with the network president about the last time they went golfing together before calling him to testify.
In Iron Man 2, Tony Stark is facing down a senate subcommittee because his Iron Man suit isn't being shared with the United States government (and the minor detail of him being an unstable billionaire with unrestricted access to a superweapon), which they see as a big no-no. They order Stark to hand it over. Stark says no, saying that because he is Iron Man and "the suit and [he] are one", doing so is akin to indentured servitude and/or prostitution. He is building a suit for Col. Rhodes, so it's more of a matter of principle than any lack of goodwill.
Captain Invincible is called before the House Un-American Activities Committee to answer charges of Communist sympathies (based upon the fact he provided super-powered air support for the invading armies' march on Berlin- and the Russian forces were closer to Berlin than the US/UK), impersonating an officer of the United States Armed Forces (as there was no record of him receiving a captaincy or even a commission in any service), and showing his Underwear of Power in public.
The Pentagon Wars uses this trope as a framing device. The general in charge of the development of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle squirms under the interrogation of a House subcommittee while flashbacks reveal what a disaster it was.
At the end of The Bourne Identity, Ward Abbott goes before a sub-committee to tie off Operation Treadstone. This receives a Call Back at the end of its second sequel, The Bourne Ultimatum, as Pamela Landy goes before a sub-committee to blow the whistle on Operation Blackbriar, which was Treadstone's offshoot.
After Abbott finishes testifying about Treadstone, he begins briefing the committee on Blackbriar...
M in Skyfall is required to testify before a Defence Ministry hearing about MI6's effectiveness. It's rendered moot when Silva and his henchmen attack the hearing and M is eventually killed before they come to any decision.
In Public Enemies, J. Edgar Hoover's first scene is in a budget subcomittee hearing where he is requesting a doubling of the Bureau of Investigation's budget.
Tunnelvision is set entirely during one regarding the eponymous first uncensored network in the US; however, the bulk of the film concentrates on a screening of the selection of Tunnelvision programming on a randomly-selected day during said hearing.
Because of her actions in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Natasha Romanoff is brought in for questioning by a Senate sub-committee. They try to grill her for an explanation but she simply shrugs it off and says they're free to throw her in jail but it won't change what the world already knows. Really they have a lot more to answer for than she does.
In G. I. Jane, O'Neill threatens Senator DeHaven with this during a conversation they have after O'Neill learns that DeHaven was the one behind the attempts to get her kicked out of the Navy.
O'Neill: If I have to ask anyone again, Senator, I'll be asking on C-SPAN.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thirty 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.
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.
Mass Effect 3 opens with Commander Shepard in lockdown for their actions during Mass Effect 2. These include working with a terrorist group and (if the last DLC mission was purchased) destroying an entire batarian star system for the purposes of delaying the invasion of genocidal Abusive Precursors. By the time the actual "tribunal" rolls around, however, said invasion is well underway and the Committee spends what screentime they have begging Shepard for answers. Then a Reaper appears practically on top of them...
Shepard: You brought me here to confirm what you already know. The Reapers are here.
The Citadel Council periodically tries to do this once you start working for them in the first game. Since you're in your badass spaceship on the other side of the galaxy, though, you can just hang up on them if they start giving you trouble (and they will start giving you trouble).
The Trooper in Star Wars: The Old Republic has to answer questions from the Republic Senate's armed services committee at several points.
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.)
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.