On August 16, the DOJ sent a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) formally announcing the DOJ’s commitment to end its initiative known as Operation Chokepoint, which was designed to target fraud by investigating U.S. banks and the business they do with companies believed to be a higher risk for fraud and money laundering. Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote: “All of the [DOJ]’s bank investigations conducted as part of Operation Chokepoint are now over, the initiative is no longer in effect, and it will not be undertaken again.” Boyd further reiterated that “the [DOJ] will not discourage the provision of financial services to lawful industries, including businesses engaged in short-term lending and firearms-related activities.” However, criminal activity discovered as a result from responses to subpoenas may continue to be pursued by the DOJ. Additionally, the FDIC also rescinded a list identifying “purportedly ‘high-risk’ merchants” and the DOJ noted that it “strongly agrees with that withdrawal.”

On August 18, Rep. Goodlatte’s office, along with other judicial and financial services committee leaders, issued praise for the DOJ’s decision: “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.”

Separately, on August 21, Acting Comptroller of the Currency Keith A. Noreika sent a letter to House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.) repudiating Operation Chokepoint and claiming “the [OCC] rejects the targeting of any business operating within state and federal law as well as any intimidation of regulated financial institutions into banking or denying banking services to particular businesses.” Noreika further stated that the OCC “expects the banks it supervises to maintain banking relationships with any lawful businesses or customers they choose, so long as they effectively manage any risks related to the resulting transactions and comply with applicable laws and regulations.”

The DOJ’s announcement comes after years of attempts by Congressional Republicans to end the initiative as well as lawsuits filed by payday lenders over claims that regulator interpretations of “reputational risk” violated their rights to due process. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.)