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Jack Ryan: Who authorized this?

Ritter: I'm sure they'll ask you that.

Jack Ryan: Who authorized it?

Ritter: "I have no recollection, Senator."
Clear and Present Danger (film version)

The United States Congress is one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, legislatures on the planet. It has an oversight capacity that is quite simply huge and investigates pretty much every aspect of government policy, running permanent and ad-hoc committees. These committees have the power to issue subpoenas and make you testify under oath.

Therefore, it is of no surprise that it will find a way to analyse government policy towards the undead or alien species. You may even get a Senator getting a guided tour. 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. Getting a committee chairmanship is also a highly desirable thing for a Senator or Representative looking to further their careers.

This trope also covers investigations covered out by other legislatures, real or fictional. The British Parliament has permanent Select Committees (please note that these are the same as the standing committees in the US) that investigate certain areas, including public accounts.

Examples of Hauled Before a Senate Subcommittee include:

Comic Books

  • 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.
  • 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 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 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 Subcommittee. 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?"
  • Lt. Col. Devoe's Establishing Character Moment in The Peacemaker is him explaining to a subcommittee how the SUV in his expense report was vital in securing some surplus chemical weapons from the black market.
  • 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.
  • Time Cop has a Senate Committee arranging congressional oversight on Time Travel.
  • In the second Iron Man film, Tony Stark is facing down a senate subcommittee because his Iron Man suit isn't being shared with the United States government, 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.


  • 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 horse's mouth.
  • In a Brad Thor novel, a conniving bitch of a 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 affiar 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

  • 24:
    • 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 titular chopper to a congressional demonstration when Dr. Moffett steals it, killing several people and blinding Archangel in one eye.
  • Stargate SG-1 and 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.
  • 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... He's the Active.
  • This happens at least once in The X-Files.
  • 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 he tries to get Sam to do something in the past that will show that he's actually back there and they're not just, well, lying to get funding.
  • 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.
  • This happened to the FYI crew in an episode of Murphy Brown.
  • In the NCIS Season 15 premiere "A House Divided", Director Leon Vance and Agent Nick Torres suffer from this trope due to the events of the NCIS Season 14 finale where Gibbs and McGee were stuck in Paraguay in an unsanctioned mission into the country.

Newspaper Comics

  • 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.

Video Games

  • In Mass Effect 3, the intro of the game involves Shepard being brought before an Alliance tribunal to answer for a number of quesionable activities s/he committed during Mass Effect 2, such as working with Cerberus and destroying an entire batarian star system for the purposes of delaying the invasion of genocidal Abusive Precursors. The tribunal is then interrupted by said invasion.