WASHINGTON – Congress must hold additional hearings to investigate whether Wells Fargo deliberately misled federal lawmakers during an active investigation, said 33 groups led by Public Citizen and Americans for Financial Reform in a letter (PDF) sent today to the U.S. Senate Banking Committee and the U.S. House Financial Services Committee. The groups suggest Wells Fargo executives, including former CEO John Stumpf, may have knowingly and deliberately withheld information related to its fraudulent insurance sales practices during congressional hearings held in September 2016.
According to the bank?s own timeline, Wells Fargo learned in July 2016 that more than 800,000 customers had been charged for auto insurance they did not need, and the bank ended the activity around the same time that Stumpf testified before the two banking committees about Wells Fargo?s fraudulent accounts scandal. Yet Stumpf?s testimony made no mention of this misconduct, even when he was asked directly whether fraudulent activity might exist in other business lines. The bank later reiterated this denial in written responses to questions from members of Congress.
Withholding relevant information from a congressional inquiry is a criminal offense, punishable by up to five years in prison. The letter calls on the two committees to hold further hearings to investigate Wells Fargo?s newly disclosed abuses and whether the bank lied to Congress.
?Wells Fargo had several opportunities to disclose its fraudulent insurance practices to Congress and chose not to ? including in response to direct questions by Members on the two separate occasions,? the letter to the committees reads. ?The information on additional abuses that has become public since the earlier hearings makes a strong case for further investigation and additional hearings by your Committees. It also suggests that the bank may have misled your Committees in previous testimony and withheld relevant information in responses to members? questions for the record.?
?Wells Fargo has long forced defrauded consumers into arbitration to hide its misconduct from public view, but lying to Congress would cross a new line,? said Amanda Werner, arbitration campaign manager for Public Citizen and Americans for Financial Reform. ?Having just admitted to nearly twice as many fake accounts as previously reported, Wells Fargo has a lot to answer for.?
?Wells Fargo has spent tens of millions on campaign contributions and lobbying Congress,? said Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs for Public Citizen. ?If the House and Senate banking committees refuse to investigate Wells Fargo after these latest revelations, it will be a clear indication that Congress is siding with big banks instead of their victims.?
?Wells Fargo used forced arbitration clauses and class-action bans to hide abuses and prevent its customers from securing justice or even realizing that problems the bank causes them are widespread,? said Lisa Donner, executive director of Americans for Financial Reform. ?It now appears that they have also tried to hide the breadth of problems inside the bank, even in the face of direct questions from members of Congress. Leaders of the relevant committees should be demanding answers and further hearings to get them.?