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Are Treasury’s Knives Coming Out Against Elizabeth Warren?

In recent weeks, Treasury officials have leaked details about Warren to Politico to smear her reputation.

After several weeks of officially pleasant interactions, signs are emerging that the Treasury Department’s knives may be coming out against Elizabeth Warren. In recent weeks, Treasury officials have leaked details about Warren to Politico as part of what appears to be an effort to paint her as some kind of prima donna. These relatively silly stories raise troubling questions, however, about what Treasury officials may be leaking with fewer fingerprints and greater ramifications.

The Politico pieces have been petty, but there’s no doubt they both came from Treasury. On Oct. 12, Politico ran a piece featuring this anonymous nugget (among others):

Some at Treasury grumble that Warren, in her early memos, spent much time detailing what press she was going to do . . . rather than the nuts and bolts of setting up an agency.

Then yesterday, in Politico’s Morning Money column:

NEW PAINT JOB – We also hear that while Warren is out west, her Treasury office is getting a makeover (Warren will have digs both at Treasury and the CFPB’s L Street headquarters). That’s something of a rarity for Treasury officials, who usually leave their offices as-is. There is much internal debate as to exactly what color it is that is going up on Warren’s walls. One person called it “Arizona sunset,” another “terra cotta.”

Both of these represent the kind of meaningless, issue-free pseudo-news that serves as Politico’s bread-and-butter. The actual complaints themselves, of course, are preposterous. Warren is painting her office and making media appearances—exactly the sort of things you’d expect the head of a new federal agency to be doing during her first weeks on the job. But look at the frame Treasury is putting on the stories. In both, Warren is portrayed as an ego-centric fluff-monger, not a serious policymaker. Look at fancy Elizabeth Warren painting her office! Our humble boss Timothy Geithner would never do such a thing!

Just days before an election, it’s somewhat astonishing that Treasury officials would be working the media to smear Warren instead of, say, talking about the economy. And it’s certainly counterproductive for Treasury to be creating these distractions for the new, can’t-be-independent-soon-enough agency as it sets out to re-regulate Wall Street.

This sort of bad judgment is surprising even in light of the burdens Treasury’s failures have created for the White House over the past two years. But this silly back-biting wouldn’t be that troubling on its own. A few childish press people going rogue, maybe, or perhaps petty payback for some perceived bureaucratic slight. But last night’s HuffPost Hill newsletter subtly connects the leaks to a brutally dishonest article that appeared in The New York Times this week:

TREASURY GUNNING FOR ELIZABETH WARREN? – Shahien Nasiripour sends us word: “This morning, Politico’s Ben White reported that Elizabeth Warren’s ‘Treasury office is getting a makeover … something of a rarity for Treasury officials.’ . . . . The latest leak by Treasury officials against Warren has reform advocates worried. ‘There’s no doubt they’re trying to undermine her,’ one source says. Observers of the new agency also have been scratching their heads about who may have been behind a controversial New York Times story on Wednesday about Elizabeth Warren aide Raj Date, who worked closely with consumer advocates and was hailed for his efforts during the financial reform debate. Date attracted strong defense on the blogosphere in the aftermath of a story reformers consider to be an unfair hit piece.

If in fact Treasury officials played any sort of role behind the Times story, it’s hard to state just how disgusting such behavior would be. The article in question is an outrageous smear targeting Raj Date, one of the most committed and effective consumer advocates in the United States. No reporter who had even tangentially covered the Wall Street reform bill would have written it, and the fact that the Times’ editors allowed it to be printed is a grave embarrassment.  Few people I’ve spoken to say they’d be surprised if it was planted by somebody pursuing an agenda against Warren and the CFPB.