Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters issued a fresh warning to Wall Street on Wednesday as she outlined her agenda as the new chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, saying she won't let the banks and financial institutions “run amok” and lead the country into another crisis.
Speaking at the Center for American Progress Action Fund in Washington, the California lawmaker promised to protect working Americans from big banks.
“The crisis was a result of Wall Street running amok,” Waters said, in reference to the 2008 financial crisis. “Large Wall Street banks are not subject to anybody and do great damage to our economy.”
Waters, a frequent and vocal critic of President Trump and his administration, now has some in the financial industry on edge given her newly obtained congressional powers -- especially after the sector benefited from the Trump administration’s rollback of financial regulations implemented after the last recession.
“I don’t want to be the next financial institution to mess up,” Isaac Boltansky, a Washington policy analyst for the investment firm Compass Point Research & Trading, told The Washington Post. “We will have big bank CEOs raising their right hand a lot more.”
Waters, who will be joined on the Financial Services Committee by liberal freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has already hinted she is interested in ramping up the pressure on banks that have been accused of widespread abuses.
“The CEOs of the banks now are saying, ‘What can we do to stop Maxine Waters because if she gets in she’s going to give us a bad time?’” the congresswoman said during a speech in Los Angeles last November. “I have not forgotten that you undermined our communities. I have not forgotten that you sold us those exotic products, had us sign on the dotted line for junk.”
Waters added: “What I am going to do to you is fair. I’m going to do to you what you did to us.”
In a letter to her Democratic colleagues on the committee sent late last year that was obtained by the Los Angeles Times, Waters called Wells Fargo one of the country’s “recidivist financial institutions” that would be punished under a bill she introduced last year allowing regulators to break up big banks that “repeatedly harm consumers.”
Over the past few years, Wells Fargo has been hit with a number of controversies that have made them a target of Waters’ ire.
Wells Fargo has also been accused of consumer abuses tied to the bank’s mortgage and auto-loan businesses, which led to a record $1 billion fine from federal regulators in April, and the Federal Reserve earlier this year ordered the bank to stop growing until it could prove that it can prevent consumer abuses.
In a statement sent to Fox News last November following the midterm elections, Wells Fargo said the bank is willing to work with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and hopes to restore consumers' trust in the financial institution.
"Wells Fargo remains committed to working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, including Congresswoman Waters,” a spokesperson for the bank said in the statement. “Our priority is to continue sharing the progress that we have made to transform our company, make things right with customers, and give back to our communities."
Her power in the new Congress will be limited as Democrats only hold the majority in one chamber, with the Republican-led Senate likely to act as a cooler for any aggressive regulatory efforts should they advance in the House. But the committee perch would give her the ability to investigate and subpoena.
“I just don’t know who is going to be in her crosshairs,” Richard Hunt, president of the banking industry trade group the Consumer Bankers Association, told Fox News. “Is it going to first be [Treasury Secretary Steve] Mnuchin and Trump or is it going to be the banks?”
One bank with closes ties to President Trump that Waters has already singled out is the German financial institution Deutsche Bank.
“I am committed to strong oversight and following the Trump money trail, starting with Deutsche Bank,” she wrote last year.
The banked doled out about $630 million in fines to U.S. and British regulators after it failed to stop the transfer of around $10 billion out of Russia in violation of anti-money laundering laws. Waters has pushed to see any suspicious activity reports the bank filed with the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and while she hasn’t explicitly discussed plans to subpoena bank officials to come before the committee – to testify about either their records or their lending to Trump – she also hasn’t ruled it out.
Deutsche Bank spokesperson Troy Gravitt said in a statement sent to Fox News that the bank is willing to cooperate with whatever action Waters takes.
“Deutsche Bank takes its legal obligations seriously and remains committed to cooperating with authorized investigations,” Gravitt said. “Our recent record of cooperating with such investigations has been widely recognized by regulators. We intend to keep working in this spirit if we get an authorized request for information.”