As Prepared for Delivery
The Trump administration has taken a qualified nominee and dumped him right in the middle of a dark-money political firestorm of their own creation. And a radical change in tax law regarding transparency and disclosure has dragged the IRS and Treasury into a swirling set of questions about the president’s foreign financial ties and motivations. As a result, this nomination is no longer an isolated debate that can begin without context.
On Monday morning, news broke that a Russian national with alleged ties to Russian intelligence was arrested for using a, quote, “gun rights organization” as a conduit to infiltrate and influence our democracy.
Hours later, on Monday night, the Trump administration unveiled a pro-corruption transformation of our tax laws that would make it easier for Russia to get away with it the next time. It was a good day for dark money.
Colleagues, our laws regarding donor disclosure and campaign finance were already horribly broken, long before this change was announced. That was true even before the Citizens United ruling. And now this latest blow: Dark money groups used to be required to disclose their donors to the IRS. Now they won’t be required to disclose at all.
Not only is the Trump administration’s move dangerously undemocratic, it goes straight into the Hall of Fame of shameless, hackish, partisan politics. It’s a signal to the public that the administration is more interested in protecting foreign meddlers than American voters. And it came hours after the president stood at a lectern next to a murderous dictator, praised him, and threw the United States and our intelligence professionals under the bus.
So in my view, what’s happened this week leads to a few conclusions and next steps. First, this committee must hold a hearing on the Trump administration’s move to allow more dark money to influence and undermine our elections. The change was never debated in this room, or in any public venue. It was, however, plucked from the wish-lists of deep-pocketed conservative groups that seek to buy elections and rewrite our laws to their benefit.
The Congress and the American people need to know how the administration came to this decision, with whom they met to discuss it, and what the full implications will be going forward. And in my view, it’s now long past time to make several major changes to the laws in this area so that Americans can have confidence that our elections aren’t bought and sold.
Second, this committee needs to see Donald Trump’s tax returns. We should set up a time to discuss this in executive session, because enough is enough. People across the country — across the globe, in fact — are still reeling from the president’s behavior in Helsinki, in London, and in meetings with our NATO partners over the last several days. There is a serious question looming overhead: Did the president lavish praise on Putin and slam our allies simply because he prefers strongmen to democratically-elected leaders, or is it because he has personal and financial connections to Russia that Putin is exploiting against him?
The committee needs answers to that question, and those answers eventually need to become public. Reviewing the president’s tax returns would be a start.
It might not uncover the full picture, because the ties between Russia, the president and the expansive business organization he and his family continue to run could be enormously complicated and well-concealed. But the president’s refusal to adhere to the four-decade, bipartisan, pro-transparency tradition of releasing tax returns can go on no longer.
Finally, there are more questions that, in my view, need to be investigated with the full weight of bipartisan congressional oversight. That includes further inquiries into the NRA’s role in the 2016 election, Michael Cohen’s influence-peddling, and the Trump Foundation’s conduct. But as of right now, we on this side of the dais have no dance partners on the other side. I hope that changes, because one thing has become clear with the string of explosive revelations over the last several weeks and months. What the president calls a “witch hunt” is turning up a lot of witches.
As for the nomination the committee is scheduled to vote on today, I want to close with this. For now, despite his qualifications, I am unable to support Mr. Rettig’s nomination. I’ve appreciated the productive conversations I’ve had with him since he was nominated. And as soon as this hearing ends, I’m going to move to have him back here to discuss changing this Trump policy in order to protect America from a new flood of dark money, potentially foreign, from infecting our politics.
Colleagues, this week has been about as far from business as usual as I can remember. And what the Trump administration announced late on Monday night yanks control of our democracy even further from the hands of the American people. So today I’ll be a no.