Biden Nominees for Illicit-Finance Posts Endorse Swift Implementation of AML Act, Robust Sanctions Enforcement

By Valentina Pasquali

A pair of current and former officials that President Joe Biden nominated for the top two posts in the Treasury Department’s counter-illicit finance office vowed to prioritize implementation of a sweeping package of reforms to the Bank Secrecy Act, and push back against Iran, Russia, China, North Korea and other nations that threaten U.S. interests.

Biden last month chose Brian Nelson, who worked in the Justice Department’s national security division from 2009 to 2011, and Elizabeth Rosenberg, current counselor to Treasury’s deputy secretary, to serve as undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, or TFI, and assistant secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes, or TFFC, respectively.

During a friendly confirmation hearing Tuesday, Nelson and Rosenberg told members of the Senate Banking Committee that they would work with Treasury’s staff and lawmakers to implement dozens of provisions from the Anti-Money Laundering Act.

One measure contained in the law, which lawmakers enacted over the veto of then-President Donald Trump at the start of the year, directs the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, one of the offices under TFI’s purview, to create a registry of U.S. corporate owners by January 2022.

“I’m looking forward, if confirmed, to prioritizing getting that registry in place and supporting FinCEN … and supporting the need for additional resources in order to execute against those important requirements,” Nelson, who most recently served as chief legal officer and secretary for the organizing committee of the 2028 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Los Angeles, said.

Previously, from 2011 to 2014, Nelson filled senior roles in California’s Justice Department, where, as chief of policy, he coordinated efforts with state authorities as well as counterparts in Mexico against drug trafficking, human trafficking, money laundering, cybercrime, and more generally, the activities of transnational criminal organizations, he said Tuesday.

In the two years that Nelson worked in the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., as the national security division’s senior counsel and later as deputy chief of staff, he oversaw the department’s participation in the Treasury-led Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

CFIUS vets foreign firms that seek to invest in critical U.S. sectors to ensure they do not present a national security threat.

At the hearing, Sens. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Jon Ossoff (D-GA) and others questioned the nominees on the booming fintech sector, and on several high-profile ransomware schemes that recently cost major U.S. firms, including the country’s largest oil distribution network, Colonial Pipeline, and meat processor, JBS, millions of dollars in payments made in cryptocurrency.

Nelson and Rosenberg said they would use existing measures and any new tools made available by the AML Act to ensure that cryptocurrency firms and other virtual assets providers abide by the same compliance requirements as traditional financial institutions.

“Philosophically, the way I would approach it is to be less focused on the technology but focused more on crime and criminals and using the tools that we have at TFI to drive out the crimes and criminals, and create space for appropriate use of our systems,” Nelson said.

TFI also oversees—both directly and through TFFC, its policy arm—the Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC, which implements and enforces U.S. sanctions programs, a hot topic at the hearing.

Sens. Pat Toomey (R-PA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and others repeatedly asked Nelson and Rosenberg to commit to fully implementing sanctions against officials from Russia, North Korea and Hong Kong, their proxies and financial facilitators as mandated by the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, the Banking Restrictions Involving North Korea Act, and the Hong Kong Autonomy Act.

The two nominees appeared to assent, and called secondary sanctions against foreign financial institutions that enable the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, suppression of democratic institutions and other activities contrary to U.S. national security interests “a powerful tool” at TFI’s disposal.

Both also committed to continue using sanctions to counter Iran’s support for international terrorism even if Biden restarts a global nuclear accord with the Islamic Republic that took effect in January 2016 and that Trump forsook two years later, or crafts a brand new deal.

“The United States has a role and responsibility to push back on the threats to our national security presented by Iran,” Rosenberg said. “Advancing those U.S. interest … and seeking to hold Iran accountable is something that existed alongside and outside of the Iran nuclear deal previously and can and should occur outside the Iran nuclear deal if the U.S. enters back into it.”

Prior to becoming counselor to Treasury’s deputy secretary in Jan., Rosenberg worked for more than seven years at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, D.C. She previously served in senior roles at TFFC and TFI from 2009 to 2013.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), the committee chairman, said he would push for a vote on Nelson and Rosenberg’s nominations “quickly” after the Senate returns from the July 4 recess.

Contact Valentina Pasquali at

Topics : Anti-money laundering , Sanctions , Info. Security/Cybercrime
Source: U.S.: White House/U.S. President , U.S.: Department of Treasury
Document Date: June 22, 2021