Is Eric Schneiderman Selling Out? Committee to 'Investigate' Financial Fraud Has Some Dark Implications
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New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has been celebrated as the progressive Great White Hope. But the danger of assuming leadership is that individual becomes a target both of attacks and of seduction. And while I’d like to think better of Schneiderman, an announcement earlier this evening has strong hallmarks of Schneiderman falling prey to the combined pressures and blandishments of the Administration and its allies.
Only a sketchy bit of news has been released, with the most extensive reporting so far coming in Huffington Post which incorrectly anticipated a State of the Union announcement of the fact that Schneiderman will be co-chairing a Federal committee to investigate mortgage abuses (the story appears to have been confirmed in general terms via an announcement from Schneiderman’s office). Key details from the HuffPo story:
The unit will not supersede the efforts already underway by the Department of Justice. Instead, it will operate as part of the president’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. In addition to Schneiderman, the unit will be co-chaired by Lanny Breuer, assistant attorney general at the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice, Robert Khuzami, director of enforcement at the SEC; John Walsh, a U.S. attorney in Colorado, and Tony West, assistant attorney general in the Civil Division at DOJ.
So get this: this is a committee that will “investigate.” The co-chair, Lanny Breuer, along with DoJ chief Eric Holder, hail from white shoe Washington law firm Covington & Burling, which has deep ties to the financial services industry. Even if they did not work directly for clients in the mortgage business, they come from a firm known for its deep political and regulatory connections (for instance: Gene Ludwig, the Covington partner I engaged for some complicated regulatory work when I was at Sumitomo Bank, later became head of the OCC). We’ve written at length on how the OCC is such a shameless tout for the banking industry that it cannot properly be called a regulator. Similarly, the SEC has been virtually absent from the mortgage beat, no doubt because its enforcement chief, Robert Khuzami, was general counsel to the fixed income department at Deutsche Bank. That area included the trading operation under Greg Lippmann who we have described as Patient Zero of so called mezz CDOs, or to the layperson, toxic mortgage paper that kept the subprime bubble going well beyond its sell date. And we don’t need to say much about the DoJ. It has been missing in action during this entire Administration.
Neil Barofsky, former prosecutor and head of SIGTARP, doesn’t buy the logic of this committee either:
A lot of soi-disant liberal groups have fallen in line with Obama messaging, which was the plan (I already have the predictable congratulatory Move On e-mail in my inbox). Let’s get real. The wee problem is that this committee looks like yet another bit of theater for the Administration to pretend, yet again, that it is Doing Something, while scoring a twofer by getting Schneiderman, who has been a pretty effective opponent, hobbled.
If you wanted a real investigation, you get a real independent investigator, with a real budget and staffing, and turn him loose. We had the FCIC which had a lot of hearings and produced a readable book that said everyone was responsible for the mortgage crisis, which was tantamount to saying no one was responsible. We even had an eleven-regulator Foreclosure Task Force that looked at 2800 loan files (and a mere 100 foreclosures) and found nothing very much wrong.
Now we have a committee full of people who have made numerous statements in the media and to Congressional committee minimizing the severity of the mortgage mess. Are were to believe they all had a conversion experience on the eve of the State of the Union address? But apparently the members of what passes for the left are prepared to take “investigation” at face value since it would be unpleasant to consider the possibility that they are being snookered again.