The Washington Times - March 13, 2008, 01:13PM

The Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention met in secret. The Senate met in secret until 1794, its first rules reflecting a belief that the body’s various special roles, including providing advice and consent to the executive branch, compelled it to conduct its business behind closed doors. The Senate’s executive sessions (to consider nominations and treaties) were not opened until 1929.

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Since 1929, the Senate has held 54 secret sessions, generally for reasons of national security. On November 1, 2005, the Senate met behind closed doors to discuss Iraq war intelligence. Six of the seven most recent secret sessions, however, were held during the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton. In 1997, the Senate met in secret to consider the Chemical Weapons Convention Treaty and in 1992, to debate the “most favored nation” status of China. The Senate also closed its doors during the impeachment trial of federal judges in 1933 and 1936 and on six occasions in the 1980s.

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The House met frequently in secret session through the end of the War of 1812, and then only in 1825 and in 1830. Since 1830, the House has met behind closed doors only three times: in 1979 to discuss the Panama Canal, in 1980 to discuss Central American assistance, and in 1983 to discuss U.S. support for paramilitary operations in Nicaragua.

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Members and staff of both houses are prohibited from divulging information from secret sessions, and all staff are sworn to secrecy. Violations of secrecy are punishable by the disciplinary rules of a chamber. A Member may be subject to a variety of punishments, including loss of seniority, fine, reprimand, censure, or expulsion. An officer or employee may be fired or subject to other internal disciplinary actions.

Majority Leader Hoyer SEE RELATED:

December 27, 1825 — To receive a confidential message from the President regarding relations with Indian tribes.

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May 27, 1830 — To receive a confidential message from the President\ on a bill regulating trade between the U.S. and Great Britain.

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June 20, 1979 — Panama Canal Act of 1979; implementing legislation.

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February 25, 1980 — Cuban and other Communist-bloc countries\ involvement in Nicaragua.

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July 19, 1983 — U.S. support for paramilitary operations in Nicaragua.

My colleagues who joined me in the hearings and reviewed the Administration’s documents have walked away with an inescapable conclusion: the Administration has not made the case for unprecedented spying powers and blanket retroactive immunity for phone companies.

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Whether this is a worthwhile exercise or mere grandstanding depends on whether Republicans have groundbreaking new information that would affect the legislative process. There must be a very high bar to urge the House into a secret session for the first time in 25 years. I eagerly await their presentation to see if it clears this threshold. As someone who has seen and heard an enormous amount of information already, I have my doubts.

“The Majority received a request from the Minority Whip, Mr. Blunt, for the House to go into secret session. Mr. Blunt stated that Members in the Minority believe they have information relevant to the debate on FISA that cannot be publicly discussed. The Majority agreed to Mr. Blunt\0x2019s request so that the Members may hear this information in a secret session that will proceed for one hour, equally divided, and controlled by the Majority Leader and the Minority Leader. At the conclusion of the debate, the secret session shall be dissolved.\0x201D
Folks - I wanted to make sure all of heard that it is our understanding that Majority Leader Hoyer has agreed to our request that the House go into a secret session today. We will discuss the importance of permanently extending the Protect America Act, the flaws in the Democrats’ new FISA legislation, and why immediate passage of the bipartisan, Senate-passed FISA bill is the best solution to protect the American people and our Armed Forces around the world. I believe this will be the first secret session in the House since 1983.
— Jon Ward, White House correspondent, The Washington Times