WASHINGTON Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is requesting additional information from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation about its involvement in Operation Choke Point.
Issa sent a letter Monday to FDIC Chairman Martin Gruenberg charging that the agency has been working closely with the Department of Justice as part of its law enforcement effort to root out fraud through the payments processing system.
The California Republican says he doubts testimony by Richard Osterman, acting general counsel at the FDIC, during a House Financial Services Committee hearing last month, in which Osterman repeatedly downplays the FDIC's role, referring to the initiative as a Justice Department program.
"Documents produced to the Committee by the Department of Justice call into question the sincerity and truthfulness of Mr. Osterman's testimony. In fact, the FDIC has been intimately involved in Operation Choke Point since its inception," the letter says.
The letter highlights several Justice Department internal documents detailing meetings and conversations between officials at the two agencies, including an offer from the FDIC to lend two attorneys to assist with part of the review process for different banks.
The move follows the release of an Oversight Committee report late last month based on numerous internal documents warning that Operation Choke Point has forced banks to cut ties with legitimate businesses, such as payday lenders, that regulators don't like.
"The committee has obtained substantial evidence suggesting that as a result of coordinated actions by the FDIC and the Department of Justice, banks are terminating relationships with entirely legitimate and licensed businesses," the letter adds.
The oversight chairman also requested a host of documents and communications related to the FDIC's work with the Department of Justice, its written guidance for banks on working with "high risk" businesses and its evaluations of the risks created by doing business with firearms companies, payday lenders and money services businesses. Issa asked that the documents be delivered by June 23.
An FDIC spokesman said the agency has received the letter and plans to respond.