May 05, 2020

Warren Grills Trump Nominee for Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery in Banking Committee Hearing

Secures Commitment for Transparency, Investigations into Any Corporate Abuse of Bailout Funds

"(T)he CARES Act should have slapped iron-clad rules on companies getting a bailout, but the Republicans refused. Now the primary tool that we have to stop corporations from using this bailout to enrich themselves is rigorous oversight."

Video (YouTube)

Washington, D.C. - In a Senate Banking Committee hearing this afternoon, United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) questioned Brian Miller, President Trump's nominee for Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery, on how exactly he would oversee bailout relief funds.

The full transcript and video of her exchange with Mr. Miller is available below.

Transcript: Warren Questions Trump Nominee for Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery
Tuesday, May 5, 2020
U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs

Video (YouTube)

SENATOR WARREN: We are in the middle of a public health pandemic crisis that has already killed more than 60,000 people and half a step behind this health crisis is an economic crisis that threatens the security of tens of millions of people across this country. The CARES Act created a $500 billion slush fund for giant corporations and if confirmed as the Special Inspector General, it will be Mr. Miller's job to conduct the oversight of this money and to make sure that it is spent to benefit workers and families, not shareholders and corporate executives. 

So Mr. Miller, let's just start with the basics. You would be given broad authority under the CARES Act to investigate all of the money that Treasury has out in the coronavirus response, all of the funds distributed by taxpayer-backed lending programs at the Federal Reserve, and what the companies do with the loans and grants, is that correct? 

BRIAN MILLER: Senator, I will follow the law and make sure that I do audits and investigations of those programs. 

WARREN: These are the easy questions. Can we just do "yes, that's right?" 

MILLER: Could you repeat the question please? 

WARREN: I'm just citing what the law says. 

MILLER: I will follow the law, whatever it says. 

WARREN: Alright, and the law gives you the same authority as all Inspectors General under the Inspector General Act to conduct investigations for the "purpose of promoting economy and efficiency" or "preventing and detecting fraud and abuse in government programs." Is that right? 

MILLER: That's correct. 

WARREN: Okay. So, the law gives you the authority and it gives you the tools to investigate the people who are handing out the money and who get the money. So now I just want to ask how you plan to use your authority. Now I want to get specific on this. I want to ask about how you will investigate how the money is used. For example, if a giant corporation gets bailouts financed by taxpayer dollars from CARES, and then lays off or furloughs a bunch of its workers, I think we agreed when we spoke yesterday, that this would constitute a potential waste of abuse of taxpayer bailout funds. 

Would you investigate in such a case? 

MILLER: Senator, I'm not going to answer hypotheticals, but I will tell you that I would investigate any misuse of the monies and the money needs to go to where--

WARREN: Well I need a general idea, though, of what might constitute an abuse in your mind. That's how we evaluate whether or not you're going to be an Inspector General who is going to be looking out for taxpayer funds. So, you said yesterday when you and I spoke privately, that you thought that that would constitute a potential waste or abuse of taxpayer bailout funds. And I just want to know, if that's the case, would you investigate? 

MILLER: I will investigate any situation that I consider an abuse of taxpayer funds. 

WARREN: And would you consider a case where a giant corporation gets bailout financed by taxpayer dollars from CARES, and then lay off a bunch of its workers, as at least a potential waste or abuse that you would have to investigate and find out more? 

MILLER: Yes, Senator. 

WARREN: Good, good. So let's do another one we talked about. If a giant corporation lobbies Congress or the White House and then gets a bailout financed by taxpayers, is that a potential situation for fraud or abuse that you would investigate? 

MILLER: Well, Senator, I'm not comfortable answering hypotheticals, but certainly if a company is---

WARREN: Well I'm not comfortable confirming someone who won't tell me what he would investigate. 

MILLER: The purpose--

WARREN: I'm not asking for the name of a particular company, I'm just asking in general, is that the kind of thing that would trigger--you're saying--an investigation as appropriate? When we spoke yesterday in private, you said you thought it was. And I just want this in public, on the record, when you're under oath. 

MILLER: Right, I just want to be careful about hypotheticals, Senator. Certainly, situations where companies are spending the money for profits and laying off workers, seems to be a situation that I would want to investigate. 

WARREN: Good, and how about when companies are lobbying Congress or the White House, either one--you said you want to look at both--how about that? Is that a potential circumstance you'd want to investigate? 

MILLER: Again, Senator, I'm not comfortable with the whole hypothetical--

WARREN: You were comfortable in private yesterday. In fact, when I asked about it with the White House, you said you wanted to include Congress in that as well. A company that lobbied both. I don't understand why you won't say the same thing in public right now. 

MILLER: You know, Senator, I'm going to investigate any area that I think is an abuse of these monies because they need--

WARREN: What I'm trying to ask is do you think lobbying and then getting money is a potential for abuse that you would investigate? 

MILLER: It's possible, Senator. 

WARREN: It's possible and so if it is possible, would you investigate? 

MILLER: And I would investigate it if it were lobbying Congress or the White House.

WARREN: Good. That's all I wanted. And then a third one. And that is, even if the Treasury Department doesn't put any restrictions in the loan documents or ask for information about how the money would be used or restrict corporate lobbying or avoid potential conflicts of interest, will you request that information from the companies that receive loans under this program? 

MILLER: I will investigate all potential conflicts of interest and if they don't--if I don't have the information through the Department of Treasury, I will request and then subpoena the information if I don't get it. 

WARREN: Good, and will you make that information public so that taxpayers can see what's going on? 

MILLER: My goal is to make all information public and to inform the taxpayer. The only possible exception, Senator, would be if it is part of a criminal referral to the Department of Justice. 

WARREN: Good. I am very glad to hear that because I believe that transparency is important. Look, I think that the CARES Act should have slapped iron-clad rules on companies getting a bailout, but the Republicans refused. Now the primary tool that we have to stop corporations from using this bailout to enrich themselves is rigorous oversight. 

Mr. Miller, your time working as one of President Trump's impeachment defense attorneys should have disqualified you from being nominated to oversee the president's management of one of the largest corporate bailouts in American history. The demands on you will be particularly intense because this president has already fired multiple inspectors general and because he couldn't tolerate any criticism and he has already said that he will muzzle you. You will, however, have the chance to defend your independence and your integrity by your actions. If you stick to the commitments that you have made here and you are an aggressive watchdog, then I'm prepared to work with you on that. 

Thank you, Mr. Miller.

MILLER: Thank you, Senator. I would like to work with you, even if you don't vote for my confirmation as you indicated yesterday. 

WARREN: Thank you.