GOP chairman floats contempt charges for consumer bureau chief

GOP chairman floats contempt charges for consumer bureau chief
© Greg Nash

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) said Thursday he’s considering seeking contempt of Congress charges against the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Hensarling said CFPB Director Richard Cordray has refused to turn over documents his panel requested for its investigation into Wells Fargo’s sales practices. A report from the Financial Services Committee’s Republican staff released Tuesday argued that Cordray’s refusal was grounds to pursue contempt of Congress charges. 

“It’s nothing personal against Mr. Cordray, but I’ve got a job to do,” Hensarling said at a briefing with reporters Thursday. “We will use whatever legal means necessary to get those documents.”

The CFPB fined Wells Fargo $100 million in September 2016 for opening and charging fees for more than 2 million bank and credit accounts for customers without their authorization. 

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The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and the City of Los Angeles were also involved in the investigation of practices first revealed by the Los Angeles Times in 2013. GOP lawmakers on the panel have argued that Cordray and the CFPB were “asleep at the wheel” and jumped into the investigation late to take credit.

“They wish to brag about what they did, about their involvement in Wells Fargo,” Hensarling said. “But we can’t find evidence that they did anything except swoop in in the end and impose a headline fine.”

The staff report said that the CFPB “did not produce a single internal record related to its Wells Fargo branch sales practice investigation” and only provided records that “were easily obtainable” from the OCC or Wells Fargo.

“Due to CFPB Director Richard Cordray’s failure to honor his legal obligation to produce all records responsive to the Committee’s Subpoena, the Committee’s Wells Fargo investigation is at an impasse. Key questions remain unanswered,” the report said.

A CFPB spokesperson told The Hill that CFPB learned from whistleblowers about Wells Fargo in mid-2013, and "produced more than 57,000 pages of materials thus far in response to the Committee’s document requests."

The Wells Fargo showdown is the latest chapter in the feud between GOP lawmakers and Cordray. Republicans have long insisted that Cordray should be fired from his job directing an agency they call unaccountable and abusive. Democrats have fiercely defended both the CFPB and Cordray’s work leading it.

Republicans spent an April hearing with Cordray making a case for his firing, often citing the CFPB investigation.

“For all of the harm caused to consumers, [Cordray] should be dismissed by the president,” Hensarling said before Cordray testified to the committee. “Mr. Cordray, I’m surprised you are here.”