If things get a bit uncomfortable for members of Congress and Obama administration officials, they’ll have Darrell Issa to blame for that. Since news broke last June that federal lawmakers and other VIPs had received sweetheart loans through what Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo dubbed his “Friends of Angelo” program, the California Republican and ranking member of the House oversight committee has been leading the charge to investigate the matter. He says his investigation has “uncovered evidence that only a fraction of those who participated in Countrywide’s VIP program have come to light,” and Issa has every intention of flipping on the floodlights of accountability.
But there’s a hitch. While Bank of America, which acquired Countrywide in 2008, has agreed to provide Issa with documents that he’s requested, it will only do so under subpoena. Obtaining that subpoena will require a full committee vote and the cooperation of oversight committee chariman Edolphus Towns, who has been seemingly reluctant to open this can of worms. In fact, Towns declined to sign his name to the letter [PDF] Issa sent to BofA CEO Ken Lewis in early June requesting the “Friends of Angelo”-related documents. Why? According to the Wall Street Journal:
A spokeswoman for Mr. Towns said the Friends of Angelo program wasn’t on the chairman’s priority list, which includes oversight of the nation’s financial crisis, the financial bailout of banks and the giant federal financial stimulus package.
This explanation seems a little feeble. If Countrywide used below market rate loans to influence politicians to turn the other way while it helped to ransack the US economy, that seems directly relevant to the financial crisis—and certainly worthy of Towns’ to-investigate list. Of course, it’s easy to see why Issa’s mission to uncover “the extent that special benefits co-opted public servants who were supposed to be watchdogs of the mortgage industry” might make lawmakers squeamish. If there are indeed many as yet unnamed “friends of Angelo” out there, they all have a keen interest in making sure it stays that way. Several prominent Democrats have already been named as VIP loan recipients, including Senators Kent Conrad and Chris Dodd, who are presently under investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee. President Obama’s envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, was also on the list. Issa says the VIP loan program “is a bipartisan problem” and tells the Journal that it’s clear that influential Republicans took part in it too. (George W. Bush’s HUD secretary Alphonso Jackson was apparently one of them.)
While Towns may fear that Issa’s probe is merely a ploy to drop the hammer on as many Dems as he can, it may be difficult, in the end, for the oversight chairman to withhold his support for a subpoena. Issa’s making sure of that. “I have engaged in constructive conversations with Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Edolphus Towns about issuing the subpoena that Bank of America has indicated it needs to fully cooperate with our investigation,” Issa said today in a release. If those conversations start to get less constructive, you can bet Issa is going to let us know about it.