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D.C. Memo: Tina Smith calls out JPMorgan Chase over Jeffrey Epstein; and AOC talks Boundary Waters

Sen. Tina Smith has questions for bank CEO after Virgin Islands AG said JPMorgan Chase ignored “obvious signs of Epstein’s illegal activity” and AOC weighs in during contentious Boundary Waters hearing.

Sen. Tina Smith
In her letter to J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, Sen. Tina Smith asked why his bank, which held more than 50 accounts tied to Epstein, had flagged – internally – cash withdrawals from those accounts ranging from $40,000 to $80,000 several times a month in 2006.
Kevin Dietsch/Pool via REUTERS

WASHINGTON — Sen. Tina Smith has taken on JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon about his bank’s relationship with convicted sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.

Smith, a member of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, asked Dimon about allegations in a lawsuit filed by the attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands that said JPMorgan ignored “obvious signs of Epstein’s illegal activity” and maintained its relationship with him. Epstein was found dead in his jail cell, an apparent suicide.

“If true, JPMorgan’s decision to turn a blind eye to such egregious misconduct raises serious questions about its role in facilitating Epstein’s abuse, and its willingness or ability to root out and prevent other, less apparent instances of sex trafficking,” she wrote.

Dimon is scheduled to be deposed later this month in the U.S. Virgin Islands lawsuit, which said “JPMorgan’s relationship with Epstein in allowing his sex-trafficking venture to access large sums of cash each year went far beyond a normal (and lawful) banking relationship.”

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The lawsuit seeks to determine whether JPMorgan Chase can be held liable for profiting from Epstein’s illegal acts.

In her letter to Dimon, Smith asked why his bank, which held more than 50 accounts tied to Epstein, had flagged – internally – cash withdrawals from those accounts ranging from $40,000 to $80,000 several times a month in 2006.

“By that year, the bank was reportedly aware that Epstein paid cash to have underage girls and young women trafficked to his home,” Smith wrote. “This apparently became an open secret among senior executives, even devolving into a topic of jest. Still, the bank maintained its relationship with Epstein for several more years, including after his conviction.”

In a statement, JPMorgan said it regretted its relationship with Epstein.

“In hindsight, any association with Epstein was a mistake and we regret it, but we do not believe we violated any laws. We are committed to combatting human trafficking and we will continue to look for ways to invest in advancing this important mission,” the bank said in a statement.

But Smith has not been swayed by JPMorgan’s contrition. One JPMorgan official “raised numerous red flags, including his sponsorship of bank accounts and credit cards for young women in 2004, and the possibility that he was using a modeling agency as a front to traffic young women into the country,” Smith wrote.

“JPMorgan’s apparent failure to act on these signs demonstrates a flagrant disregard for the law and a callous pursuit of profits over the human cost of Epstein’s heinous crimes,” she said.

In her letter, Smith asked Dimon a number of questions, including what JPMorgan’s policies and procedures were in relation to human trafficking and whether he believed they “worked effectively” in Epstein’s case.

Smith also asked if JPMorgan ignored red flags concerning Epstein. “What should provide confidence that JPMorgan is carrying out its responsibilities to address trafficking in cases that are less high profile or less visible?”

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Smith also asked if the bank had made changes to its procedures or disciplined any officials in relation to their handling of Epstein.

She also asked, “How many clients has JPMorgan terminated or reported for human trafficking each year since 2006?” And “how many of those clients were high-wealth customers of JPMorgan’s private bank?” She gave Dimon a deadline of May 24 to respond.

A congressional skirmish over mining in Boundary Waters watershed

Rep. Pete Stauber, R-8th District, held an often-contentious hearing Thursday about two pieces of legislation he has recently introduced that would revoke the Biden administration’s moratorium on mining in the Superior National Forest and the canceled leases of Twin Metals, a company that wants to mine for nickel and copper in that federally protected land.

The hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee, which is controlled by Republicans, featured a rehash of arguments for and against the mining of sulfide-producing ores in northeastern Minnesota.

Democrats on the panel, and the sole Democratic witness, Becky Rom, the national chair of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, maintain that copper and nickel mining is too much of a pollution risk for the Boundary Waters.

“It’s not a matter of ‘if,’ it’s a matter of ‘when,’” Rom said.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, said luck had nothing to do with the ability of  the “pristine wilderness” to keep its waters clean.

“It was 100 years of federal protections,” she said. “This region and its resources have been under threat for years.”

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Meanwhile, Stauber, his GOP colleagues and the witnesses they invited argued that the metals beneath the ground in northeastern Minnesota are needed for electric vehicles and other aspects of a green economy and their extraction can be done safely.

They pointed to other nations, including China, that are mining under lax environmental and labor standards and said the Iron Range could set the gold-standard for clean mining and well-paying jobs – and ease U.S. dependency for needed metals from overseas.

And Stauber defended his legislation, saying that while they would reverse the Biden administration’s cancellation of Twin Metal leases in the Superior National Forest and a 20-year moratorium on mining in the forest, they would not “fast track or greenlight” any mining project.

Stauber has held several hearings to promote other legislation that would aid the mining industry. But the gloves were off in this one.

Ocasio-Cortez took issue with former state Sen. Tom Bakk, a GOP witness who promoted Stauber’s legislation, because Bakk had failed to identify himself as a lobbyist for Twin Metals.  She asked Bakk several times  whether he lobbied for Twin Metals, “yes or no.”

The former state senator prevaricated,  eventually pointing out his relationship with the mining company had been disclosed in the written version of his testimony.

“I think it’s important for us to have clarity,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

She also took issue with another GOP witness, David Chura, who identified himself as the head of an organization called “Jobs for Minnesotans.” Ocasio-Cortez said Chura’s day job was working for Minnesota Power, a utility whose largest customers are the Iron Range mining companies.

Meanwhile, Stauber resurrected a 2017 New York Times article about the Boundary Waters that quoted Reid Carron, Rom’s husband, as saying the “pro-mining crowd” is “resentful that other people have come here and been successful while they were sitting around waiting for a big mining company.”

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Stauber continued to read from Carron’s interview with the newspapers, in which he said miners “just want somebody to just give them a job so they can all drink beer with their buddies and go four-wheeling and snowmobiling with their buddies, not have to think about anything except punching a clock.”

“I find that statement offensive,” Bakk said. He said Minnesota miners are “among the hardest working people” who, “when the weekend comes, they are not looking for strenuous recreation because they work strenuously all week.”

Stauber’s legislation may pass the Republican-controlled U.S. House but would have a tough time winning approval in the U.S. Senate, which is under Democratic control. And President Biden would almost certainly veto any legislation that reversed his administration’s actions.

Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, the highest-ranking Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, told MinnPost that the purpose of the hearing was “for Stauber and some of the other (Republicans) to get it out of their system and pretend they did something.”