Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen ducked several questions from GOP lawmakers this week about her department's surveillance of Americans' bank records following Jan. 6, 2021.
Last month, the House Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government revealed that federal investigators in the Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) instructed banks to comb through customer transactions looking for key terms like "MAGA" and "Trump."
The federal government was spying on supporters of former President Donald Trump and on Americans who made purchases at stores like Dick's Sporting Goods, Bass Pro Shops, and Cabela's, as well as those who bought religious books, such as the Bible.
The report sparked intense backlash, with Republicans demanding the Biden administration provide answers for the violation of conservative Americans' civil liberties.
In two appearances on Capitol Hill this week, Yellen was grilled by GOP lawmakers in both chambers over her department's search requests.
During a Senate Banking Committee hearing on Thursday, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., rebuked the secretary for the surveillance directives.
"FinCEN was created to stop money laundering and not to spy on Americans," Scott said, according to the Daily Mail. "It was not created for political motivations."
After being questioned by Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., on the spying, Yellen claimed that it occurred before she took office and said she would investigate.
"I will get back to you with more detailed information when I've had a chance to study this thoroughly," she reportedly told Hagerty.
At a House hearing on Tuesday, Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., pressed Yellen for an answer about whether Americans' purchasing data was surveilled by her department.
"Has Treasury ... instructed financial institutions to search Americans' legal transactions in attempts to surveil their purchases?" Wagner asked Yellen.
"Well, we received a letter from you, I believe, on this topic; and we intend to investigate fully," Yellen replied.
Wagner asked again: "Are they instructing financial institutions to search Americans' legal transactions in attempts to surveil their purchases?"
"I promise a thorough look into everything," Yellen said.
"This is really concerning, and I would hope you get to it just as quickly as possible, Madam Secretary," Wagner said, concluding the exchange.
House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan's January report revealed that the Treasury Department also suggested that banks search for the terms "MAGA" and "Trump" in Zelle payments.
"Did you shop at Bass Pro Shop yesterday or purchase a Bible?" Jordan posted on X at the time. "If so, the federal government may be watching you."
In another post he wrote, "We now know the federal government flagged terms like 'MAGA' and 'TRUMP,' to financial institutions if Americans completed transactions using those terms. What was also flagged? If you bought a religious text, like a BIBLE, or shopped at Bass Pro Shop."
According to documents the Treasury provided to banks, purchasing a bus or a plane ticket "for travel to areas with no apparent purpose" and subscribing to "extremist" news outlets would also warrant further scrutiny.
Nicole Wells ✉
Nicole Wells, a Newsmax general assignment reporter covers news, politics, and culture. She is a National Newspaper Association award-winning journalist.
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