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U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman is a former senior executive at Citigroup and received a "golden parachute" worth more than $4 million upon leaving the large financial institution to go into government. (Photo: US Institute of Peace/flickr/cc)

Group Seeks to Expose Cozy Ties Between US Trade Rep and Wall Street

'Americans deserve to know what Froman has been privately saying to these big banks.'

Deirdre Fulton

Citing his cozy ties to Wall Street banks, a group dedicated to exposing corruption and corporate influence in Washington, D.C. has submitted an official Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for all correspondence between U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and the 10 largest U.S. financial institutions.

The FOIA request demands access to or copies of emails and other written communications between Froman, the country's top trade negotiator, and banks including JP Morgan Chase & Co., Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Citigroup.

Froman is a former senior executive at Citigroup and received a "golden parachute" worth more than $4 million upon leaving the large financial institution to go into government.

Rootstrikers, the grassroots organization behind the FOIA request, has said that because corporate giveaways like the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) pose a threat to robust financial regulation in general—and the U.S. financial reforms implemented after the financial crisis in specific—"Americans deserve to know what Froman has been privately saying to these big banks."

As Kurt Walters of Rootstrikers wrote in the request, dated Wednesday: "Disclosure of the requested in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government, based on the information privately communicated to the financial sector by Ambassador Froman and the possible influence of that sector on negotiations."

In an open letter on May 28, Rootstrikers and nine other organizations called on Froman to voluntarily disclose this correspondence.

He has not responded. 

"Publicly, the Administration has denied that upcoming trade agreements like TTIP pose a potential threat to strong financial regulation, but when they were asked for documents showing what Ambassador Froman has been saying privately to the big banks, the Administration has stonewalled," Walters said. "It's concerning that Ambassador Froman chose not to build credibility and trust by voluntarily disclosing these communications, but he now has an obligation to do so under FOIA."

Noting that under the FOIA statute, Froman's office has 20 business days to comply with this request, Walters added: "If it turns out that Ambassador Froman's correspondence with the big banks is too voluminous for USTR to comply promptly—a fact that would confirm our concerns about Wall Street's influence on the trade negotiation process—we will be willing to narrow our request. Otherwise, we expect prompt compliance as the statute requires."

Froman is in Hawaii this week, where international trade ministers are said to be entering what could be the "final stretch" of TPP negotiations.

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