Key Laws & OLC Opinions

Below you can find a list of key laws and Office of Legal Counsel opinions relating to legislative oversight.

Statue Of Lady Justice And Supreme Court Building


Congress Generally

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. 

2 U.S.C.§ 194 states that if Congress certifies to the “appropriate United States attorney” a failure to provide information under § 192, it “shall” be the “duty” of that federal prosecutor to bring the matter before a grand jury.

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).

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.

Law concept - Open law book with a wooden judges gavel on table in a courtroom or law enforcement office isolated on white table. Copy space for text.

Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel Memos

See also index of OLC opinions issued prior to 1994, prepared by Columbia University Knight First Amendment Institute