Why Does Congress Put Witnesses Through This Charade?

February 5, 2016

By: Sara Kropf

Like most people, I read the news stories about Martin Shkreli’s testimony before Congress this week. I saw the quotes about his eye-rolling and general snarkiness. His post-hearing tweet was amusing.


Now, we’ve all had challenging clients. His lawyers certainly have their work cut out for them. He’s clearly not going to be “handled” and good PR is obviously not his focus.

But what bothers me the most about all of this hullabaloo is not that Mr. Shkreli wasn’t on his best behavior during the hearing.

It was that he had to be there at all.

His lawyers had already made it very clear to the congressional committee that Mr. Shrkeli planned to take the Fifth Amendment during the hearing and not testify.

Despite this, Representative Chaffetz wrote a letter to Mr. Shkreli’s lawyers that

We write to advise you that the subpoena issued to Mr. Shkreli on January 12, 2016,
remains in effect, and that failure to appear and comply with the subpoena may expose Mr. Shkreli to criminal liability pursuant to 2 U.S.C. §§ 192 and 194.

In case you were wondering, 2 U.S.C. § 192 concerns “Refusal of witness to testify or produce papers.”

Every person who having been summoned as a witness by the authority of either House of Congress to give testimony or to produce papers upon any matter under inquiry before either House, or any joint committee established by a joint or concurrent resolution of the two Houses of Congress, or any committee of either House of Congress, willfully makes default, or who, having appeared, refuses to answer any question pertinent to the question under inquiry, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000 nor less than $100 and imprisonment in a common jail for not less than one month nor more than twelve months.

(Section 194 has to do with reporting the failure to testify to the local AUSA. Lucky Channing Phillips.)

Now, Mr. Shkreli was obviously grandstanding. And he was kind of being a jerk. But so was Congress. The committee members knew he wasn’t going to testify. They simply wanted to embarrass him or do some grandstanding themselves.

Pot, meet kettle.

Congress does this All. The. Time. And every time it is a colossal waste of time and taxpayer dollars. If Congress wants to investigate drug prices, then do that. But don’t haul someone before a committee to testify, knowing that he will take the Fifth. It’s a constitutional right, for goodness’ sake. There’s an ongoing criminal investigation, and any lawyer worth her salt would tell him to take it.

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