A top Senate Republican wants answers from the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network regarding reports officials instructed banks to monitor Americans’ online transactions described with the terms “MAGA” and “Trump” as well as purchases of religious texts.
In a Friday letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and FinCEN Director Andrea Gacki, U.S. Senator Tim Scott, R-S.C., the ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, expressed concerns over potential privacy violations and the targeting of U.S. citizens.
Scott’s letter came days after U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, chair of the House Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, claimed the subcommittee obtained documents showing that FinCEN “distributed materials to financial institutions that, among other things, outline the ‘typologies’ of various persons of interest” following the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021.
Jordan alleged in a letter to a former FinCEN official seeking a transcribed interview for the congressional record that the agency also “provided financial institutions with suggested search terms and Merchant Category Codes (MCCs) for identifying transactions on behalf of federal law enforcement.” Those materials allegedly included a “document recommending the use of generic terms like ‘TRUMP’ and ‘MAGA’ to ‘search Zelle payment messages’ as well as a ‘prior FinCEN analysis’ of ‘Lone Actor/Homegrown Violent Extremism Indicators,'” the letter reads.
Jordan wrote that FinCEN “warned financial institutions of ‘extremism’ indicators that include ‘transportation charges, such as bus tickets, rental cars, or plane tickets, for travel to areas with no apparent purpose,’ or ‘the purchase of books (including religious texts) and subscriptions to other media containing extremist views.'”
Scott emphasized that such actions, if true, would constitute a severe breach of privacy and improper targeting without due process.
“These allegations are particularly concerning given past efforts to weaponize the financial system and payment activity against politically disfavored, lawful activity,” Scott wrote.
“Under the Obama administration’s ‘Operation Choke Point’ initiative, the Department of Justice (DOJ) coordinated with federal financial regulators to intimidate financial institutions into denying services to legitimate businesses that the administration was ideologically opposed to, including gun retailers. Unfortunately, the weaponization and misuse of MCC codes is not a new issue either.”
The allegations suggest that FinCEN recommended banks search Zelle payment messages for specific terms and transactions indicating legal firearm purchases. Scott highlighted the constitutional implications of targeting individuals based on political views and raised concerns about the independence of federal financial regulators.
“Federal government efforts to target individuals and entities based on their political views is a blatant and egregious violation of our Constitution,” Scott wrote. “Additionally, reported actions like these disrupt confidence in federal law enforcement and raise significant questions regarding the independence of federal financial regulators.”
The documents uncovered by the House Judiciary Committee and Subcommittee on Weaponization of the Federal Government also urge financial institutions to flag transactions at stores like “Cabela’s,” “Dick’s Sporting Goods” and “Bass Pro Shops.”
The documents also revealed FinCEN’s warning to financial institutions about an “extremism indicator” being the purchase of books, including religious texts, and subscriptions to media with extremist views.
“We now know the federal government flagged terms like ‘MAGA’ and ‘TRUMP’ to financial institutions if Americans completed transactions using those terms,” Jordan wrote in a tweet. “What was also flagged? If you bought a religious text, like a BIBLE, or shopped at Bass Pro Shop.”
Scott demanded information from the Treasury and FinCEN on their role in soliciting financial data from private companies post-Jan. 6 and whether other executive branch agencies directed these activities. He also sought clarification on FinCEN’s rationale for associating the purchase of religious texts with extremism.
Sources told Fox News the search terms, including “MAGA” and “Trump,” were initially generated by a bank to identify suspicious transactions. FinCEN reportedly shared these terms with other banks for compliance with suspicious activity reports. Additional terms shared included “White Power,” “Antifa,” and others, with the distribution beginning in the final weeks of the Trump administration.
The revelations coincide with President Joe Biden’s first ad for his 2024 reelection campaign, which labels Trump supporters as “extremists.” The ad, released days before the third anniversary of the Jan. 6 riot, emphasizes the “preservation of American democracy” as a central issue.
Scott has requested the Treasury Department to provide the requested information by Feb. 2, as the investigation into these allegations continues.
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