Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Investigations to Proceed on #OperationChokePoint

As reported last month, a coalition of congressional representatives led by Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer  (R-Mo.) had requested internal investigators at the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to conduct formal inquiries into Operation Choke Point, as well as any officials and staff involved in the program. Rep. Luetkemeyer is now reporting that those requests have been granted. According to his press release announcing the decisions, “The correspondence I received from the FDIC and DOJ is a great first step in ensuring that those responsible for Operation Choke Point are held accountable and that Congress and the American people receive details and answers they deserve.”

Over the past year, the NRA has reported at length on the abuses of Operation Choke Point, an enforcement program involving DOJ and FDIC (among other agencies) that claims to target financial fraud, but in reality is being used to choke off banking services to legitimate, although politically-disfavored, businesses. These businesses include retailers of firearms and ammunition, a number of which have found their banking relationships abruptly severed with little or no explanation and without reference to anything the individual businesses did or did not do. Earlier this year, a congressional report based on examination of nearly 900 internal DOJ documents found that the operation's adverse effect on legitimate businesses was not merely an unintended side-effect but the outcome of a deliberate attempt to target entire business sectors that, while legal, were deemed objectionable by regulators.

Many questions about the program remain, including who decided which business sectors should be targeted, the extent of coordination between the agencies involved, and who within the Obama administration knew of or encouraged the activity. The forthcoming investigations should hopefully shed light on these and other important issues. What is clear is that DOJ and FDIC have a lot of explaining to do.

The NRA remains committed to shedding light on the abusive practices of Operation Choke Point. While other attempts to reign in Choke Point are underway -- including legislation and litigation by affected members of the financial services industry -- the ultimate solutions to such rank abuse of investigative and enforcement authorities is to ensure they are clearly revealed for what they are and to pinpoint the decision-makers and planners involved. Legislation and court orders, while beneficial and certainly indicated in addressing Operation Choke Point, are no substitute for integrity, sound discretion, and professional ethics.  In this regard, Operation Choke Point may have more to say about the character of those administering the system than about the soundness of the system itself.

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