Some members of Congress, their staffers and other government employees received special preferential treatment on loans from former mortgage-lender Countrywide Financial, a House panel found. They received “sweetheart deals” by being part of the “VIP program,” according to report from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
The program included use of a “referral desk” where members of Congress and their staff could call to receive “enhanced customer service and discounts.” Investigators found that the phone calls had been recorded at the time, but “the recordings were destroyed as part of regular system maintenance prior to congressional interest in Countrywide’s VIP program.” The three-year long investigation produced documents and testimony that shows Countrywide used the VIP program as a “tool to create a favorable impression of the company on Capitol Hill.”
Rep. Jason Chaffetz characterized the “VIP program” as “something you couldn’t just pick up the phone or go down to your local Countrywide representative and get” and he says it’s clear “there was an attempt here to influence.” Chaffetz tells Anderson that “a little bait was put out in front of these people and unfortunately a number of them bit on both sides of the aisle.” Watch this preview and tune in for the full conversation at 8 and 10 p.m. ET.
Several of the legislators cited in the House report on Countrywide loans have provided the following statements to CNN:
Dodd statement from spokesman Bryan DeAngelis
This report recycles old allegations that Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Ethics Committee investigated for 14 months before concluding that Senator Dodd did nothing wrong. The Senate Ethics Committee found that the rates and terms Senator Dodd received were widely advertised and available to other borrowers. When questions were first raised about his loans, Senator Dodd was clear in saying he became a Countrywide customer back in 1999 – something noted on the first page of the Senate Ethics Committee's report.
When it comes to ensuring proper regulation of the financial sector and making sure there is appropriate transparency, Senator Dodd’s record speaks for itself. Case in point: The Wall Street Reform Act (aka Dodd-Frank) and the Credit Card legislation as well as his support for the Oxley reforms of Fannie and Freddie.
Towns statement Attributable to Charles E. Lewis, Jr., Deputy Chief of Staff/Communications Director
This report does not alter Rep. Towns’ assertion that he did not knowingly receive any preferential treatment.
Conrad statement attributable to Sen. Kent Conrad
The Senate Ethics Committee spent a year and a half reviewing every last page of my loan history with Countrywide. They determined – unanimously, Democrats and Republicans – that I received no preferential treatment and in no way acted unethically. That is the truth.
Sessions statement attributable to Communications Director Torrie Miller
Out of an abundance of caution in managing his personal finances, Congressman Sessions specifically requested that he not be extended any special benefits or treatment from Countrywide. The Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s report confirms that Congressman Sessions’ simple request was honored and that he was treated like every other customer.” – Torrie Miller, Communications Director for Congressman Pete Sessions (R-TX-32)
McKeon statement attributable to Communications Director Alissa McCurley
Mr. McKeon has been completely upfront and transparent about his loan. He was never aware of any Friends of Angelo designation, and he has provided the media all his loan documentation from the 1998 loan. Mr. McKeon shares Chairman Issa's interest in determining if there was any wrongdoing by Countrywide.
Gallegly statement attributable to Communications Director Tom Pfeifer
Rep. Gallegly has had loans on three homes in California and two homes in Washington, DC, over the past 20 years. Only one went through Countrywide. He took out the loan in 2004 and paid it off less than a year later. The payoff amount was about $77,000 at 5.75% interest, comparable to rates at the time. By comparison, his primary mortgage on the same house carried a 4.25% interest rate. He has not had a Countrywide loan before or since.
At the time, Countrywide was the largest mortgage lender in the nation and, by all accounts, considered to be one of the most reputable. Rep. Gallegly never asked Countrywide for any type of preferential treatment nor was he aware of any type of preferential treatment. To the credit of news organizations, reporters have noted prominently that there is no accusation of wrongdoing.
In fact, in his 32 years of public service and as a businessman prior to his election to Congress, there has never been a hint of impropriety or wrongdoing on Rep. Gallegly’s behalf.