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DOJ Ends Operation Choke Point

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Published on: August 20, 2017

Earlier this week, I reported on Republicans calling on the Department of Justice to end the Obama-era program called Operation Choke Point that targeted a multitude of businesses, including gun dealers.

Now, the DOJ has ended the program and any activities associated with it in reply to those cries.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd penned a letter to Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary, in which he explained the shutdown of the program.

Boyd’s letter was in response to Goodlatte’s August 10th letter regarding Operation Choke Point and the attorney general refers to the program as “a misguided initiative conducted during the previous administration.”

Mr. Boyd said that the current DOJ believes that “law abiding businesses should not be targeted simply for operating in an industry that a particular administration might disfavor.”

“Enforcement decisions should always be made based on the facts and the applicable law,” wrote Boyd.

“The Department is committed to bringing enforcement actions only where warranted by the facts and the applicable law, without regard to political preferences,” Boyd said in the letter. “This approach honors the Department’s fundamental obligation to focus on the lawbreakers that deserve our undivided attention, and thereby protect the American public from fraud and other criminal activity.”

“We reiterate that the Department will not discourage the provision of financial services to lawful industries, including businesses engaged in short-term lending and firearms-related activities,” the letter concluded.

Operation Choke Point entailed the issuance of a set of subpoenas in 2013.

Attached to some of those subpoenas was a guidance document issued by the was a guidance document issued by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

That FDIC guidance included a footnote listing certain “elevated-risk” merchants, including short-term lenders and firearms dealers.

The FDIC subsequently rescinded its list of purportedly “high-risk” merchants.

Boyd says the DOJ “strongly agrees with that withdrawal.”

“All of the Department’s bank investigations conducted as part of Operation Choke Point are now over, the initiative is no longer in effect, and it will not be undertaken again,” wrote Boyd.  “Some of the responses to those subpoenas led to the discovery of other criminal activity involving certain individuals and non-bank entities.”

However, Boyd added, “To the extent the Department  continues to pursue those ancillary investigations, none relates to or seeks to deter lawful conduct.”

Goodlatte was happy to hear the news.

“We applaud the Trump Justice Department for decisively ending Operation Choke Point,” he said.

“The Obama administration created this ill-advised program to suffocate legitimate businesses to which it was ideologically opposed by intimidating financial institutions into denying banking services to those businesses,” Goodlatte added.

“Targeted industries, such as firearms dealers, were presumed guilty by the Obama Justice Department until proven innocent, and many businesses are still facing the repercussions of this misguided program,” he continued.  “This is no way for law enforcement to operate and runs counter to principles enshrined in our Constitution.”

Chris Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action, said in a statement, “On behalf of the NRA’s five-million members, I want to thank President Trump and Attorney General Sessions for ending ‘Operation Choke Point.”

“President Obama’s blatant attempt to misuse banking laws to destroy small firearm businesses was unconscionable,” Cox added.  “We appreciate the Trump administration’s commitment to end it once and for all.”

“The federal government should not be allowed to pick winners and losers in the marketplace,” he concluded.

Some went further and pointed out that the DOJ’s activities were criminal in nature.

The Community Financial Services Association of America, which was recently granted a discovery request in a lawsuit against the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation dealing with Operation Choke Point, called the program illegal.

“This illegal program has caused tremendous harm over the years to legal and licensed businesses all over the country, including many small businesses who have had to close down after losing their banking relationships,” Dennis Shau, the group’s CEO, said in a statement. “While the Justice Department’s announcement is a positive development, it is imperative that the federal regulatory agencies—the FDIC, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Federal Reserve—whose officials served to implement this illegal program be fully stopped and held to account.”

“CFSA will continue its ongoing lawsuit to put an end to Operation Choke Point and hold these regulatory agencies accountable,” he added.  “We won’t stop until federal regulators cease applying their backroom pressure to legal, licensed businesses and until those who have been wrongly targeted by Operation Choke Point are allowed to reestablish banking relationships.”

Yes, in the same manner that it’s wrong for government to force people to buy health insurance, it’s wrong for them to target businesses based on lawful business practices.

Shau is right though in adding that other entities inside the government and outside (Federal Reserve) shoulder stopped from participating in this kind of illegal behavior.

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