Treasury Secretary Yellen's evasive answers remind of need for 2A privacy

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen couldn’t — or wouldn’t — tell Congress whether her department had ordered financial institutions to spy on the transactions of private and law-abiding citizens. The Treasury Department is suspected of telling large financial institutions to hand over transaction information of any potential purchases of firearms, ammunition, or purchases at sporting goods stores as part of an investigation into the events of Jan. 6, 2021.

Secretary Yellen could have put any suspicion to rest by simply telling Congress that it didn’t happen. Her inability, or unwillingness, to definitively respond is troubling for the firearm industry, which has been battling back against back-door gun control efforts to expose the private financial history of firearm and ammunition purchasers under the guise of crime prevention.

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Secretary Yellen faced off with the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee. The meeting followed a letter sent by House committee members specifically demanding answers to documents in which Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) revealed that the Biden administration was behind a clandestine scheme to track Americans’ purchases without their knowledge or any evidence of a crime.

In other words, President Joe Biden’s Treasury Department had no reason, nor legal authority, to invade the privacy of law-abiding citizens, but evidence points that they did just that, despite privacy laws and Fourth Amendment protections. Rep. Jordan sent a letter to the Treasury Department’s Strategic Operations Division of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) requesting testimony over documents Congress obtained indicating FinCEN outlined “typologies” of supposed persons of interest, including using Merchant Category Codes (MCCs) to track suspected “Lone Actor/Homegrown Violent Extremism Indicators.”

Chairman Jordan wrote, “This kind of pervasive financial surveillance, carried out in coordination with and at the request of federal law enforcement, into Americans’ private transactions is alarming and raises serious doubts about FinCEN’s respect for fundamental civil liberties.”

No answer

Secretary Yellen couldn’t put the issue to rest when presented the opportunity.

“Has Treasury — including FinCEN or federal banking agencies like the Fed, FDIC, OCC — instructed financial institutions to search Americans’ legal transactions in attempts to surveil their purchases?” Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) asked Secretary Yellen.

“Well, we received the letter from you, I believe, on this topic, and we intend to investigate and to respond,” SecretaryYellen responded.

That’s not at all what the Congresswoman asked. The evasiveness was just the beginning.

“Have you instructed banks and financial institutions to provide this information?” Rep. Wagner continued.

“Well, FinCEN, our job is to work with financial institutions to make sure ...” Secretary Yellen began, again ignoring the direct question asked of her, before Rep. Wagner interrupted as directly as possible.

“Are they instructing financial institutions to search Americans’ legal transactions in attempts to surveil their purchases?” Rep. Wagner said once again.

“I promise a thorough look into everything,” Secretary Yellen said.

“This is really concerning, and I would hope you get to it just as quickly as possible, Madam Secretary,” Rep. Wagner said.

No Senate reprieve

Secretary Yellen appeared just a day later at a U.S. Senate Banking Committee hearing. She fared no better there.

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) admonished the secretary in his opening remarks for squandering the trust of the American people who are learning that their government is violating their rights and weaponizing their purchase history to label them as “potential terrorists.”

“Under your jurisdiction is the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN. And we have seen and heard of abuses from FinCEN,” Sen. Scott explained. “Using their power to track Americans shopping for sporting goods stores, purchasing bibles, and making transactions with political key words. In fact, I sent a letter to you just a few weeks ago specifically asking about these allegations that the Treasury Department has been providing materials to financial institutions, instructing them to search Americans’ transactions using terminology that reveal political interests. I would love to hear a response to that. If true, this is a gross abuse of power. FinCEN was created to stop money laundering and not to spy on Americans. It was not created for political motivation. So I conclude with this: America deserves better than what the Biden Administration and the Department of Treasury has delivered to them.”

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Sen. Scott wasn’t the only one disturbed by the actions of the Treasury Department and the inaction of Secretary Yellen to answer the allegations of abuse of authority to illegally spy on Americans.

“Even more damage continues to be inflicted on the credibility of the Treasury. If you think about last month’s revelation that FinCEN, that’s a bureau that’s under your watch, directed financial institutions to flag customers that demonstrated, quote, ‘extremist indicators,’” said Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) “Like the words ‘Trump’ or ‘MAGA’ or whether they made transactions to purchase religious books. This time it’s not just an IRS contractor doing it, this is the administration itself, taking personal data to target its political foes. Secretary Yellen, do you believe people that purchase bibles are extremists?”

“Certainly not. I want to put this matter in perspective,” Secretary Yellen answered. “First of all, FinCEN’s mission is to safeguard the financial system from illicit use, to combat money laundering, terrorist financing ...”

Sen. Hagerty interrupted with, “Certainly not to target Americans for purchasing Bibles and for voting for Donald Trump?”

Secretary Yellen demurred, telling the Senate committee that she wasn’t in charge of the Treasury Department on Jan. 6, 2021. However, she failed to explain why that information was sought after the Biden administration assumed authority.

“This bureaucracy is under your charge,” Sen. Hagerty concluded.

Unjustified searches

The stall tactics should be just as concerning as the allegations that the Treasury Department violated the Fourth Amendment protections against illegal search and seizure of potentially millions of Americans without their knowledge or cause for suspicion. Secretary Yellen should be able to definitively say to Congress that no such action ever took place — if in fact — it never took place.

Secretary Yellen’s attempt to stall for time is damning and raises rightful suspicions that the Biden administration isn’t acting as a “government of the people, for the people,” rather as a government that runs roughshod over rights to advance political agendas. In this case, it appears the Biden administration was targeting lawful gun and ammunition purchasers as a target for potential political persecution.

Chairman Jordan’s letter demanding answers from Secretary Yellen said the House Judiciary Committee has evidence that the Treasury Department was pressuring financial institutions to hand over any information that included terms like “TRUMP” or “MAGA” and to search Zelle payments. FinCen allegedly warned financial institutions of purchases that might be considered suspicious, including a bus or plane ticket, rental cars and even “the purchase of books (including religious texts) and subscriptions to other media containing extremist views.”

It didn’t end there. The committee has evidence that FinCen also instructed financial institutions could abuse MCC codes to identify “potential active shooters, [and] who may include dangerous International Terrorists/Domestic Terrorists/Homegrown Violent Extremists.”

Weaponizing private transactions

That instruction from FinCen included using certain MCCs “such as ‘3484: Small Arms,’ ‘5091: Sporting and Recreational Goods and Supplies,’ and the keywords ‘Cabela’s,’ and ‘Dick’s Sporting Goods,’” among several others.

The implication from the alleged Treasury Department invasion of privacy and Fourth Amendment infringement was that anyone purchasing a Bible, guns or ammunition — or any camping supplies from large outdoor retailers is a suspected homegrown terrorist.

This is why NSSF has been diligently working to get Second Amendment Privacy Acts introduced in state legislatures and in Congress. So far, Florida, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Texas and West Virginia have laws barring the use of a MCC on firearm purchases. Several more states are considering similar legislation. A federal version is expected to be introduced in Congress within weeks.

Secretary Yellen’s weak answer saying that the Treasury Department is “investigating” should be a clarion call of the respect shown by the Biden administration for Constitutionally-protected liberties. This is the latest in a pattern that started with the Biden administration calling firearm manufacturers “the enemy” and has since used every lever of government to attack Second Amendment rights. Now, it appears they’ve resorted to trampling over Fourth Amendment rights to quash the Second Amendment.

Republished with permission from NSSF.

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