Hensarling Subpoenas Treasury, Justice Over 'Stonewalled' Investigations

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WASHINGTON — House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, issued subpoenas Monday for several federal agencies, asking for a trove of documents concerning ongoing investigations that he said they are obstructing.

"These agencies have failed to respond to repeated requests — one of which dates back more than two years," Hensarling said in a press release. "In light of this extraordinary stonewalling, the Committee is left with no reasonable alternative but to subpoena long-overdue information."

In a letter last week to Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., the panel's top Democrat, Hensarling said that he was using his committee's authority to demand documents from the Justice and Treasury departments as well as the Federal Reserve Bank of New York for failure to adequately and promptly provide documents related to a variety of investigations.

Hensarling said that the panel has been investigating allegations that the Justice Department has declined to prosecute large financial institutions "based on the impact that such a prosecution may have on the national economy."

That investigation was based on former Attorney General Eric Holder's March 2013 testimony that the size of certain banks was inhibiting DOJ's ability to bring charges against those banks, as well as testimony from former Treasury Under Secretary David Cohen that DOJ sought an opinion from Treasury on what impact there may be to prosecuting HSBC for anti-money-laundering violations.

To further that investigation, the House committee in 2013 requested all DOJ records concerning the economic impact of prosecution of a financial company. Those records were to include "analysis, forecasts, legal or other memoranda, and correspondence" within DOJ and with outside agencies, as well as any records related to a request "by any division, department, agency, instrumentality, or other authority of the federal or a state government, or by an individual" that asked for an economic analysis related to a prosecution.

Hensarling said that his committee also sought "all records from Dec. 29, 2010, to the present" in which relevant DOJ officials declined to issue a subpoena to a financial institution. The Treasury Department also was subpoenaed for unredacted documents related to DOJ's decision not to prosecute HSBC on anti-laundering violations.

Under a separate investigation, the committee is subpoenaing DOJ for documents related to a civil lawsuit against McGraw-Hill Cos. and Standard & Poor's. The committee said it is concerned that DOJ "brought its case to retaliate against S&P for its 2011 decision to downgrade the government's credit rating."

The Justice Department had declined to provide relevant information because the suit was ongoing, but Hensarling said that "none of the offered reasons … for not complying with the committee's request — i.e., "deliberative process and/or other litigation privileges" — apply to Congress and none will be recognized by the committee."

Hensarling's panel also demanded documents from the Treasury and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York concerning the agencies' contingency plans for averting a default on U.S. sovereign debt in 2011 and 2013. Specifically, the committee sought all communications between the Treasury and the Federal Reserve Board's Federal Open Markets Committee concerning default contingencies on August 1, 2011, and October 16, 2013, and all records "relating to any plan for whether or how to continue making principal and interest payments on Treasury debt if the nation's borrowing limit is not raised."

Waters said in a May 8 reply to Hensarling's letter that she objected to his "unilateral" decision to issue subpoenas to federal agencies without so much as a subcommittee vote. Waters also noted that in each of the investigations, the committee "received information and access to documents from the identified agencies, directly responsive to your requests."

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