Just when you thought the seemingly endless rabbit hole of Wall Street-Washington corruption, cronyism, co-option, crime and kickbacks may have finally come to an end, here comes the House Ethic Committee to pronounce that no ethics breaches were found among House members in its investigation involving the scandal surrounding Countrywide “VIP loans” and the “Friends of Angelo.” And in just doing so,the House effectively cleared itself of any wrongdoing and that’s it, case closed – move along… Move along.
For those who may have forgotten, it was only back in July that yet another House Committee, that for Oversight and Government Reform, found “Countrywide used its VIP Program to aid its lobbying efforts as well as to strengthen its relationship with taxpayer backed Fannie Mae. Countrywide partnered with Fannie Mae in a strategic business alliance that also included joint lobbying efforts.” Specifically, the report alleged that:
“The Committee’s investigation found Countrywide lobbyists and CEO Angelo Mozilo used discounted loans as a tool to ingratiate itself with policymakers in an effort to benefit the company’s business interests,” said Issa. “A former lobbyist for Countrywide testified that Members of Congress, staff, and other government officials were directed to the company’s VIP program as part of an effort to create a favorable impression of the company on Capitol Hill. This preferential treatment – that varied depending on the influence of the borrower – was not routinely offered to the public.”
Further, as part of its work, this other Committee found that:
- A log of all loans processed by Countrywide’s VIP unit showed 17,979 loans between January 1996 and June 2008. Borrowers included Members and employees of Congress, the White House, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, federal agencies, and other government entities. The log listed hundreds of duplicate loans – the actual number of VIP borrowers was considerably less than 17,979. Lawyers for Bank of America acknowledged that the log may not contain the full roster of VIP borrowers.
- Countrywide established the VIP unit in 1991 to process loans for senior Countrywide officials and their friends. Referred to internally as Branch 850, the unit had 13 full-time employees trained to provide enhanced customer service. According to VIP Loan Unit operating procedures, the suite of benefits available to VIP borrowers included program/underwriting and pricing exceptions.
- [Former Countrywide lobbyist] Jimmie Williams referred Members of Congress and congressional staff to the company’s VIP desk in California to create a favorable impression of the company on Capitol Hill. To better position himself to lobby Members and staff, Williams made sure they received enhanced customer service.
- In approximately 2000, Jimmie Williams began routing Members of Congress and congressional staff who he lobbied to a referral desk in California. Williams understood that the referral desk could handleloans for high-profile clients because the staff there frequently handled loans for celebrities.The referral desk was in fact the VIP unit.
Well, as it turns out, all these findings are now moot because, as the AP, reports, the first Committee, that which allegedly represent Ethics at the House (trying typing that with a straight face), has no power to actually do anything for one simple reason: all the allegations of favored treatment involved loans that were granted so long ago that they fell outside the panel’s jurisdiction. I.e., the statute of limitation has expired.
How very convenient – as it turns out Congress was abusing taxpayer money and receiving preferential treatment for years, but sorry, nothing can be done about it. It just happened so very long ago…
There is more, much more, here…