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Is Justice Dept. choking gun dealers with ‘Operation Choke Point?’

A new potential scandal regarding Barack Obama's administration dealings with banks to withhold financial help from businesses including gun dealers is gathering steam.
A new potential scandal regarding Barack Obama's administration dealings with banks to withhold financial help from businesses including gun dealers is gathering steam.
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Just when it appears the Obama administration can’t move without revealing another scandal, various news agencies are reporting that a Justice Department program dubbed “Operation Choke Point” is now under scrutiny, and yesterday, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) revealed that it “has been investigating the possible role of the federal government in influencing banks in their lending and business banking relationship decisions regarding companies” in the firearms industry.

In a statement released yesterday, NSSF said it is “is unacceptable…to discriminate against businesses simply because they are engaged in the lawful commerce of firearms, an activity protected by the Second Amendment.” That came as the Wall Street Journal was reporting that Capitol Hill Republicans were alleging that “the government has pressured banks to stop handling payments for merchants deemed as high risk—including gun dealers, short-term lenders and credit-repair programs—punishing good actors along with bad ones.”

Grandview Outdoors is reporting today that the operation, aimed at restricting access to credit services by so-called “high risk” businesses appears to lump firearm and ammunition retailers in the same category as porn shops and pyramid schemes. The Washington Times noted yesterday that a staff report for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform – the same panel that investigated Operation Fast and Furious – “questions the legality of Operation Choke Point.”

Now questions are being raised about whether the Obama administration is using its muscle quietly to browbeat banking institutions into cutting off financial services to gun dealers. The Washington Times reported, “The Justice Department justified its legal standing to carry out the operation under Section 951 of the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989 (FIRREA), the report states. But Justice officials candidly admitted that FIRREA wasn’t designed by Congress to combat consumer fraud, as revealed in the internal memos.”

The Wall Street Journal yesterday detailed some of the Justice Department banking probes launched last year. All of these are designed ostensibly to root out fraud, but gun dealers told Grandview Outdoors about problems they’ve had with banks withholding money or taking their time processing credit card purchases for no clear reason.

Yesterday, Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO) was joined by Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) in offering an amendment to the FY15 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies appropriations bill that prohibits Justice Department funding to be used in the Choke Point program. NSSF had noted in its statement yesterday that it had been working with Luetkemeyer on the amendment.

Also yesterday, former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, writing in, observed, “For the government to hold banks responsible for monitoring the business of all their customers is unprecedented. To do so with the explicit aim of chilling the perfectly legal economic activities of private citizens is such a jaw-dropping abuse of power that it would have been unbelievable from any previous administration.

“If the Department of Justice has evidence that particular businesses have broken the law,” Gingrich added, “it should prosecute them. Lacking that, it certainly has no right to attack entire industries through the banking system. This story is as outrageous as they come. The federal bureaucracy has gone completely off the rails.”

All that said, it is hardly certain that Congress can stop this, or hold anyone accountable. The House Oversight committee, chaired by California Republican Darrell Issa, has been unable to hold the Justice Department or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives accountable for Fast and Furious. Nobody was fired and nobody responsible was prosecuted. Thousands of subpoenaed documents still remain off limits due to President Barack Obama’s exercise of executive privilege.

Likewise, nobody has been held accountable for the Benghazi debacle, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on whose watch the murder of four Americans including Ambassador Christopher Stevens occurred, is now priming to run for president in 2016. It is as if her own words during a congressional hearing on that scandal are now carved in stone: “What difference does it make?”

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