The House Financial Services Committee is turning up the heat as lawmakers push Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify publicly about the company’s plans to launch a new digital currency this year.
The committee has told Facebook that it is not enough for the company’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg — Facebook’s No. 2 in command — to testify on Oct. 29. Lawmakers, led by Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), are insisting the committee will not confirm Sandberg’s October hearing until Zuckerberg agrees to testify before January 2020, a congressional source told The Hill.
“The October hearing with Sandberg is not confirmed until Zuckerberg confirms that he will appear before the committee,” the source said. “The chairwoman has called for him to testify by January.”
Zuckerberg will be asked to testify about the digital coin Libra as well as other issues the committee has jurisdiction over, including data privacy and whether the platform’s online advertising system enables housing, employment or credit discrimination.
Facebook and a committee spokeswoman declined to comment.
For months, Waters has said publicly that she is planning to haul Zuckerberg before the committee to testify about his company’s new digital currency project Libra. The project has sent shockwaves throughout the financial world as regulators and policymakers grapple with how the current system can deal with the rise of a digital currency from a powerhouse like Facebook, which has over 2 billion users worldwide.
“We’ll have hearings, we’re going to continue to have investigations, we’re going to get Zuckerberg here,” Waters told The Hill in July, shortly after Facebook sent top Libra executive David Marcus to testify on the project in a pair of testy Capitol Hill hearings.
“Facebook is apparently trying to create a new global financial system that is intended to rival the U.S. dollar,” Waters said during her opening remarks at the hearing. “Facebook’s plans raise serious privacy, trading, national security and monetary policy concerns, not only for Facebook’s over 2 billion users, who will have immediate access to these products, but also for consumers, investors and the global economy.”
Bipartisan lawmakers in both chambers have been raising serious concerns over Facebook’s plans to launch the Libra coin, claiming the Switzerland-based project could be abused for terrorist financing and money laundering purposes.
Over the summer, Waters led a congressional delegation to Switzerland, Germany, Cyprus and Qatar, in part to learn more about Facebook’s plans.
The delegation met with key financial regulators in Switzerland, including those who will likely be tasked with regulating the Libra Association, the Swiss nonprofit that Facebook says will oversee Libra’s launch, over the next few years.
“After the last hearing my colleagues and I were left with more questions than answers,” Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Texas), a committee member who participated in the congressional delegation, said in a statement on Friday. “If Facebook shares our commitment to transparency for the American people then I hope Mr. Zuckerberg will share his testimony before the Committee.”
The committee’s ranking member, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), has previously cast doubt on whether he believes it would be useful to have Zuckerberg testify.
“I don’t think it’s necessary,” McHenry told The Hill in July. “Bringing in the CEO of a company about one of their projects is not the best use of our time.”
McHenry’s office did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment on Friday.
Democrats on the Financial Services Committee have the ability to subpoena Zuckerberg if he declines their invitation.
Zuckerberg met behind closed doors with some of his toughest critics on Capitol Hill last month to discuss a range of issues including Libra, privacy and antitrust concerns. But testimony before the Financial Services Committee would mark the first time Zuckerberg has come before Congress publicly since widely watched hearings in 2018 that followed the Cambridge Analytica scandal.