Wells Fargo CEO gets grilled in Congress over its ‘ongoing lawlessness’

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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez seemed to be hoping for a gotcha moment during questioning of Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan Tuesday during a House Financial Services Committee Hearing and instead ended up embarrassing herself.

Sloan outlined how Wells Fargo is making things right with customers who were harmed, how the company continues to strengthen risk management and controls, and how Wells Fargo's culture has improved since he became CEO in 2016.

Ocasio-Cortez, clearly growing impatient, demanded to know why Wells Fargo shouldn't pay for clean up from theoretical spills in the future that haven't happened yet. That report cited Wells Fargo employees who said its culture hasn't changed and that misaligned sales incentives still exist.

"I'm interested in the human rights abuses and environmental disasters that some say are financed by your bank, Wells Fargo", said the freshman lawmaker during Tuesday's House Financial Services Committee hearing, pointing to Wells Fargo's financial involvement with private prison companies GEO Group and CoreCivic.

The CEOs of Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs Group Inc, Citigroup Inc, JPMorgan Chase & Co and Bank of America Corp are expected to appear before the House panel next month.

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Ocasio-Cortez's inquiries come as activists more and more search to "deplatform" political opponents by chopping off their funding from banks and different monetary providers suppliers - a concerted effort that conservatives and libertarians have stated threatens free speech.

Ocasio-Cortez asked why Wells Fargo financed the pipeline "when it was widely seen to be environmentally unstable".

He told the committee that Wells Fargo is compensating retail bank customers who were impacted by past retail sales practices issues. In another contentious exchange, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) asked Sloan whether Wells Fargo would allow disgruntled customers to sue rather than forcing them into arbitration.

Still, some Republican lawmakers acknowledged the bank's efforts, with representative Sean Duffy saying that his colleagues had been too harsh on the CEO.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have both introduced legislation that would break up Wells Fargo, and Warren has been calling for Sloan to be fired since the fake-account scandal broke in late 2016. "All the changes that you have said that you made are not evident and you do not have the kind of customer satisfaction that you are alluding to".

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On the issue of Wells Fargo's relationship with the private prison industry and the Trump administration's child detention policy, Ocasio-Cortez asked sharply: "Mr. Sloan, why was the bank involved in the caging of children?"

At times Sloan expressed remorse over the bank's scandals, noting he felt "terrible" that some servicemen and women had been harmed.

Wells Fargo stock is likely plummeting because of the negative news about Wells Fargo.

Sloan has not appeared before Congress since a 2017 Senate hearing, where he clashed with lawmakers from both parties. The bank remains subject to a balance-sheet cap imposed by the Federal Reserve.

Waters took to social media in advance of the hearing, tweeting her intent to confront the bank CEO, writing that it is "time for change" at the bank, which "engaged in predatory lending, created false customer accounts, forced consumers into insurance, and cheated service members".

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After the hearing, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which a year ago fined Wells Fargo $1 billion for faulty mortgage and insurance products, echoed comments made by its head in October that the bank still had much work to do to.