Secret Sessions of Congress: A Brief Historical Overview [Updated October 21, 2004]   [open pdf - 99KB]

"'Secret' or 'closed door' sessions of the House of Representatives and Senate are held periodically to discuss business, including impeachment deliberations, deemed to require confidentiality and secrecy. Authority for the two chambers to hold these sessions is implied by Article I, Section 5, of the Constitution. Both the House and the Senate have supplemented this clause through rules and precedents. While secret sessions were common in Congress's early years, they have been less frequent in the twentieth century. National security is the principal reason for such sessions in recent years. Members and staff who attend these meetings are prohibited from divulging information. Violations are punishable by each chamber's disciplinary rules. Members may be expelled and staff fired for violations of the rules of secrecy. Transcripts from secret sessions are not published unless the relevant chamber votes, during the session, or at a later time, to release them. The portions released then may be printed in the Congressional Record. This report will be revised when either house holds another secret session or amends its rules for these meetings."

Report Number:
CRS Report for Congress, RS20145
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