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EMILY MILLER: DOJ accused of targeting gun industry with 'Choke Point' program

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May 21, 2014: Attorney General Eric Holder pauses during a meeting at the Justice Department in Washington. (AP)

The Obama administration, after failing to get gun control passed on Capitol Hill, has resorted to using its executive power to try to put some in the firearms industry out of business, House Republican investigators say.

The assertion is included in a report recently released by California GOP Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Citing internal Justice Department documents, the committee concluded that the administration used a program known as Operation Choke Point to target legal companies that it finds “objectionable.” 

The program was started in 2013 to protect consumers by “choking” alleged fraudsters’ access to the banking system. The Justice Department essentially forces banks and third-party payment processors to stop accepting payments from companies that are considered “high risk” and are supposedly violating federal law.

However, the documents released by Issa’s committee show the federal government lumped the firearms industry in with other "high-risk" businesses including those dealing with pornography, drug paraphernalia, escort services, racist materials, Ponzi schemes and online gambling.

The committee also reported that Attorney General Eric Holder was informed the program has been shutting down legal businesses.

“We have documented that they are going after gun and ammunitions manufacturers, gun sellers and non-deposit lenders. Their own memos show they are well beyond enforcing the law,” Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., said Friday.

Luetkemeyer sponsored an amendment, which the House passed ​​Thursday night,​ which prohibits federal funds in the next fiscal year from being used to carry out Operation Choke Point. The Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act amendment passed by voice vote.

“There is an orchestrated effort by [the Justice Department] and [the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation] to do away with entire industries instead of going after the bad actors. This is wrong,” said Luetkemeyer, a former bank regulator, who currently serves on the House Financial Services Committee.

He said the goal is to stop the Justice Department by establishing “safe harbors for legal entities to do business.”

The congressman also said that if the amendment doesn’t fix the problem, he will introduce legislation to do it.

Justice Department spokesman Emily Pierce said Friday that all the assertions by the House committee are “false.” She said in an email that the documents Issa released actually “make clear that we are targeting fraudulent and illegal behavior.”

Pierce also said the department will continue to hold “accountable” the financial institutions that process fraudulent transactions.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for firearms and ammunitions manufacturers, said that several of its members have had banking relationships wrongfully terminated as a result of Operation Choke Point.

​The group argues the federal government is discriminating against businesses “simply because they are engaged in the lawful commerce of firearms.”

Andrew Arulanandam, National Rifle Association spokesman, said Saturday that the group is working with members of Congress and affected parties to get answers about the program.

“The efforts of the Obama administration to impose its vision of a ‘fundamentally transformed’ America have already fallen hard on those who value the Second Amendment,” he said. “Some fear this could be yet another example of [the president’s] ‘phone and pen’ style of imperial governance.”

Emily Miller is the chief investigative reporter for Fox 5 DC. She is the author of Emily Gets Her Gun (Regnery/2013).