Darrell Issa Demands Answers from Eric Holder on 'Operation Choke Point' Bank Shakedown
Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA), Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Congressman Jim Jordan (R-OH), Chairman of the Economic Growth Subcommittee, sent a harsh letter to Attorney General Holder Wednesday accusing the Department of Justice of abusing its power and intimidating banks through its "Operation Choke Point."
In the letter, Issa and Jordan stated, "[t]he [House Oversight and Government Reform] Committee is concerned that both the goal and mechanisms of Operation Choke Point may constitute a serious mismanagement and abuse of the Department's FIRREA [Financial Institution Reform and Recovery Act of 1989] authority."
Breitbart News broke the story Wednesday morning that the Obama administration launched 'Operation Choke Point' out of the Department of Justice in 2013 for the express purpose of destroying three key sectors of the private lending industry: third party payment processors ("TPPPs"), online lenders, and payday lenders.
Issa and Jordan requested that the Department of Justice turn over to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee "[a]ll documents and communications since January 1, 2011 referring or relating to 'Operation Choke Point'" by January 22, 2014.
"There is evidence," they wrote, "that the true goal of Operation Choke Point is to target online lenders and the payment processors who serve them." They stated further, "[t]he extraordinary breadth of the Department's dragnet prompts concern that the true goal of Operation Choke Point is not to cut off actual fraudsters' access to the financial system, but rather to eliminate legal financial services to which the Department objects."
Issa and Jordan also told Attorney General Holder in the letter, "[i]t appears the Department has indiscriminately targeted an access point to the financial system that countless legitimate merchants rely upon simply because it is 'faster' than targeting the actual perpetrators of fraud." The Department of Justice, they wrote, is "needlessly punishing good actors with the bad, and threatening legitimate merchants."
The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that "[o]fficials at the DOJ have said the crackdown is not aimed specifically at online lending, but rather a wide range of allegedly fraudulent merchants."
The Justice Department's response to the document request was guarded and non-commital. The Journal reported that "[a] Justice Department official said, 'We’ve received the letter and are reviewing it.'"
On Wednesday, the Department of Justice filed a civil lawsuit against a small North Carolina community bank, Four Oaks, as part of "Operation Choke Point."
The legal team at the Department of Justice litigating the civil case against Four Oaks includes Assistant Attorney General Stuart Delery, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Maame Ewusi-Mensah Frimpong, and Trial Attorney Joel M. Sweet, according to court documents.
It was Sweet who first publicly used the term 'Operation Choke Point' to describe the overreaching initiative at a meeting of bank examiners held by the Federal Financial Institutions Examinations Council on September 17.
Breitbart News reported Wednesday that a Department of Justice official who attended what was supposed to be a briefing on the initiative to congressional staffers in late Septembers refused to answer questions or even state her name.
Several sources with knowledge of the meeting told Breitbart News that the DOJ official told Congressional staffers she was under no obligation to provide them with any information about what would soon be known as "Operation Choke Point." Those same source told Breitbart News that the official left a business card on the table after the meeting. The name on the card was Deputy Assistant Attorney General Frimpong.
Neither Deputy Assistant Attorney General Frimpong nor a spokesperson for the Department of Justice, when asked about the report by Breitbart News, denied it.