The new chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Representative Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), outlined his plans for the Committee last week. As we expected, Mr. Gowdy said that he would pursue more methodical investigations. Noting that hearings are “an inefficient way to gather facts,” Mr. Gowdy said that the Committee would pursue investigations outside of the public spotlight and then use hearings to present the Committee’s findings.
This shift in focus could have significant implications for private sector companies and executives that are investigated by the Committee.
First, more methodical investigations usually mean more extensive document requests, including discovery of electronic records such as internal company e-mails. It may also mean that the Committee will conduct more interviews and depositions, or request that targets give sworn, written answers to detailed interrogatory requests. These investigative tools and techniques are the same methods that are used by criminal prosecutors. Mr. Gowdy, of course, is a former federal and state prosecutor.
Second, if the Committee conducts most of its investigation before proceeding to a hearing, hearings could be harder for company witnesses. Mr. Gowdy is a strong questioner, and he is at his strongest when confronting witnesses about past statements. If the Committee develops a detailed record of past statements, such as historical e-mails or deposition testimony taken in the context of the investigation, the hearings may look a lot like courtroom cross-examinations.
We previously noted that the Committee has sometimes been criticized for flitting from topic to topic, conducting a large number of relatively high level investigations. For the targets of these investigations, the high-profile hearings are a significant challenge to be sure, but the legal and public relations risks are relatively contained. Longer and deeper investigations carry significantly more risks to companies facing investigations by Mr. Gowdy and the Committee.