Mar 10 2017
For more than two hundred years, our experiment in democracy has rested on a unique system of checks and balances between the three, co-equal branches of government. Congressional oversight is a vital part of that system of checks and balances. In order to ensure that the executive branch is carrying out the will of Congress and complying with the law, members of Congress conduct oversight; holding hearings, sending letters and requesting detailed reports to make sure that every nook and cranny of the federal government is abiding by the law and spending your tax dollars wisely. This is a unique responsibility, and it's one that I take very seriously.
For four years as the top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, I was charged with oversight jurisdiction over the entire federal government. I partnered with Republican and Democratic colleagues alike to find places across government where we could get better results for less money and root out waste, fraud and abuse of power.
In the opening weeks of this new administration, we have witnessed an unprecedented level of concerning activity from President Trump and his closest advisors that indicate they don’t feel bound by the laws that everyone else follows.
Before President Trump took office, my colleagues and I urged him to fully divest from his financial holdings to avoid any and all conflicts of interest. Unfortunately, the president has yet to follow that advice. While every previous president in modern history has taken steps to end conflicts of interest between their personal finances and the economic powers that come with the job, Donald Trump has refused time and again to follow the advice of ethics officials and fully separate himself from his businesses. Instead, he continues to skirt – or sometimes outright ignore - the laws that prevent him from exploiting his job as President for personal financial gain. President Trump continues to make money from Trump Hotel in Washington, DC, located in the renovated Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue. I believe this is in direct violation of the terms of Mr. Trump’s lease, and allows foreign officials an opportunity to gain favor with “President Trump” by spending vast amounts of money at “Mr. Trump’s” hotel. Not only does this raise questions about American foreign policy, but it’s also a violation of the Constitution. Our laws prevent public officials from using their position to get rich, and no one, especially not the President, is exempt from these laws.
President Trump and his advisors continue to ignore the Presidential Records Act, which requires all official communication by the President and his or her staff be recorded and preserved for posterity. This law isn’t just a bureaucratic burden designed to fill the archives basement. By communicating using unsecure smartphones, encrypted apps, and personal email accounts, this administration knowingly breaks the law and actively attempts to conceal the day-to-day operations of the highest public office in the land. This gets to the heart of our transparent democracy. The American people have a right to know what their elected officials are saying and doing on their behalf. Hiding communications, deleting emails, and using “offline” forms of communication should make all of us question, what are they hiding? I continue to ask these questions of Mr. Trump and his staff.
Just like many of you, I was deeply troubled by the reports issued last year by 17 intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in our elections. This level of foreign interference in our free and fair elections is unprecedented in our history, and reports of contact between the Trump campaign and Russian agents throughout last year only serve to raise more questions. Early this year, I introduced a bill to create an independent, nonpartisan commission to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election. The American people deserve a comprehensive, transparent and nonpartisan investigation into the full extent of attempts to interfere in our elections, including the dissemination of false news stories.
The swift resignation of General Michael Flynn from the National Security Council for his improper discussions with high-ranking officials of the Russian government only add to the cloud of controversy that surrounds this administration’s ties to Russia. Immediately following General Flynn’s resignation, I called on the Department of Justice to establish an independent prosecutor to fully investigate the extent of Trump officials’ ties and communications with Russian officials. There are still more questions than answers and I won’t stop seeking the truth until we get the full story when it comes to Russia.
Those of us in Congress must hold the administration accountable, but as I have said loud and clear, the White House has a lot to gain by clearing up controversies and addressing the American people’s concerns. If President Trump truly has nothing to hide, and wants to earn the full confidence of the American people, he should resolve these potential conflicts of interest, uphold our ethics laws and welcome a transparent investigation into his administration’s ties and communications with Russia.
Over the past eight weeks I have heard from nearly ten thousand Delawareans on the issues that matter most to you. In our open, transparent democracy, we all have an equally important role to play and I hope you continue to call, write, email and visit my offices.