Author: Larry C. Lyons
The corruption just keeps on coming.
Sessions got Countrywide VIP loan
By: John Bresnahan
January 17, 2012 07:25 PM EST
Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, a top member of the House GOP leadership,
received a VIP mortgage from defunct lender Countrywide Financial
Corp., making him the fourth current member of the House who has
acknowledged getting a sweetheart deal.
Sessions office would not comment on the amount of the loan or when
it was issued, although press reports state that it was a 2007
transaction worth as much as $1 million. The loan does not appear on
any of Sessions annual financial disclosure reports on file with the
House Clerks office. Lawmakers and senior aides must file such
reports each year, but they are allowed to leave off information
regarding personal homes or property that do not generate any income.
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, said Torrie
Miller, Sessions spokeswoman. Everything about his experience
suggests that his simple request was honored and that he was treated
like every other customer. Congressman Sessions welcomes providing any
details requested by any House Committee about this loan, which no
House ethics rules require that lawmakers and staff may only accept
loans from banks and other financial institutions on terms generally
available to the public.
Sessions, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional
Committee, joins Reps. Ed Towns (D-N.Y.), Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.)
and Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) in acknowledging being notified that they
received below-market loans from Countrywides VIP program. The
program was put in place by Angelo Mozilo, former Countrywide CEO, and
it was designed to boost the companys standing with celebrities,
athletes, and well-connected business and government officials.
Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and former Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.)
also received special loans through Countrywides VIP unit. No charges
were ever filed against the two senators, but the Senate Ethics
Committee said both Conrad and Dodd should have exercised more
vigilance in their dealings with Countrywide.
Altogether, about 30 loans from the Countrywide VIP program went to
senators or staff, Issa told the Senate Ethics Committee in July 2010.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa
(R-Calif.) has been investigating the Countrywide VIP program since
2008. Last month, Issa announced that he had sent the names of four
current House members to the Ethics Committee after documents his
panel obtained showed they had received below-market loans from
The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that McKeon, chairman of the
Armed Services Committee and a close ally of Speaker John Boehners
(R-Ohio), received a special $315,000 loan from Countrywide in the
late 1990s. Gallegly, who recently announced he would retire from
Congress at the end of this year, got a $77,000 loan.
Both California Republicans asserted that they never sought nor were
aware that they had gotten any special favor from Countrywide, which
is similar to the denials issued by Conrad and Dodd.
And now, with three House GOP lawmakers caught up in Issas
Countrywide probe, Democrats are trying to use his investigation to
their own political advantage.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Issas counterpart House Oversight and
Government Reform Committee, sent Issa a letter Tuesday demanding to
know how he plans to proceed with his continuing Countrywide
In his letter, Cummings accused Issa of backtracking on a pledge to
disclose the findings of subpoenas issued to Countrywide, which was
purchased by Bank of America during the 2008 U.S. financial crisis,
including the names of the lawmakers who may have received special
loans by instead referring them to the House Ethics Committee. By
doing so, Issa reversed course, Cummings said.
This is exactly the approach you criticized when used for Democratic
Senators Kent Conrad and Christopher Dodd and precisely the approach
you abandoned when you issued your subpoena last February, Cummings
wrote to Issa.
Cummings also released an internal Countrywide document that appears
to show Mozilo himself was involved in the McKeon loan.
McKeonobtained a significant discount on his VIP loan as a direct
result of personal intervention by Mozilo, Cummings asserted.
It is unclear at this time what, if anything, the House Ethics
Committee will do on the Countrywide issue, but the panel may come
under great pressure to act in the coming months.
Seung Min Kim