When Darrell Issa took over the chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee after the Republican landslide in the 2010 midterms, most people assumed that his rhetoric about restoring the proper role of oversight was nothing but a philosophic cover for attacking Barack Obama and his administration. A new report this week shows that Issa’s job was a lot broader and a lot tougher than people imagined. His predecessor, the now-retiring Edolphus Towns (D-NY), covered up his own ties to Countrywide Mortgage and those of his colleagues and their aides in Congress while supposedly investigating how the defunct lender escaped scrutiny for so many years of negligent and fraudulent operation:
A Democratic committee chairman overrode his own subpoena three years ago in an investigation of former subprime mortgage lender Countrywide Financial Corp. to exclude records showing that he, other House members and congressional aides got VIP discounted loans from the company, documents show.
The procedure to keep the names secret was devised by Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y. In 2003, the 15-term congressman had two loans processed by Countrywide’s VIP section, which was established to give discounts to favored borrowers.
Issa exposed Towns’ coverup by issuing a second subpoena, which disgorged all of the records:
The effort at secrecy was reversed when Towns’ Republican successor as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, California Rep. Darrell Issa, issued a second subpoena. It yielded Countrywide records identifying four current House members, a former member and five staff aides whose loans went through the VIP unit. Towns was on the list. …
Most of the names had dribbled out to the media by the time Issa issued the committee’s final report last month on Countrywide’s use of loan discounts to buy influence with government officials. But there was no official confirmation until Issa made his report public.
Towns’ effort to keep the loans secret was at odds with statements by Republicans and Democrats alike that full disclosure of lawmakers’ financial dealings was the best means for keeping the public aware of congressional perks, unethical conduct and fundraising.
How did Countrywide end up as one of the worst villains in the housing-bubble collapse, which cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars and nearly crushed the financial sector? Simple: they bought political connections by offering sweetheart deals to people like Chris Dodd, who headed the Senate Banking Committee, and Towns, whose committee was supposed to keep corruption out of federal regulation of the market. When the entire mess collapsed, people like Dodd and Towns were in position to manipulate the investigations in order to avoid detection. Dodd was less successful at that effort than Towns, who got away with it as long as Democrats remained in charge of Congress — and the White House, which has been mighty incurious on the whole issue since running on populist outrage over the housing-bubble collapse.
Towns announced his retirement in April. He should be expelled, and his pension benefits stripped for this coverup.