The New York Times editorial board issues the mildest possible rebuke to Senator Chris Dodd for his continued lack of promised transparency on his conflict of interest in accepting sweetheart deals from troubled lender Countrywide Finance. Despite a promise last July that he would completely disclose the transactions in his “Friends of Angelo” loans, Dodd continues to block significant documents from public view and to offer ridiculous explanations of ignorance. The NYT editors don’t buy it, but they treat Dodd as gently as possible in saying so:
Last summer, a former Countrywide executive disclosed the V.I.P. program and estimated that it could save Mr. Dodd more than $70,000 across the years of his loans. The senator denied any Angelo friendship or cut-rate favoritism in what he said seemed a mere courtesy service, and he promised a detailed accounting.
That finally came this month, but in an oddly limited viewing of documents offered by the senator in his Connecticut office, not the Capitol. Reporters could peruse, but not take or copy, the documents. They showed strong credit ratings for Mr. Dodd and his wife, who firmly insisted they received a lower interest rate through normal negotiation, not insiders’ pandering. The delay, said Senator Dodd, was due to waiting on a Senate ethics inquiry that has offered no results so far.
No one has accused Senator Dodd of serious wrongdoing. Rather, the suspicion is he might have been tripped up by the moneyed Washington subculture where powerful incumbents are invited to get something wholesale. The chastened senator apologized to constituents that he was not more responsive much earlier. He and his colleagues are going to have to do better.
Come again? Dodd got rates well below the market without paying points. No lender offers that to any borrower, no matter how strong their credit ratings might be. Are we to believe that the chair of the Senate Banking Committee doesn’t understand how lending works? Of course Dodd knew he got preferential treatment. He can read the mortgage lending rates in the newspaper, and part of his job entails keeping up with that data on a daily basis.
And as a matter of fact, Dodd still hasn’t been responsive. He promised to release his documents to public view, not to flash them momentarily to a select group of reporters barred from taking notes or making copies. Even the Times doesn’t buy that as “release”.
The Times wants to sell Dodd as a victim of the “moneyed Washington subculture where powerful incumbents are invited to get something wholesale,” but that’s poppycock. The man who accepts a bribe is no more of a victim than the man who offers it. It takes both to create corruption, and it’s hard to find a more bald example of it than this. Dodd oversaw Countrywide as part of his committee chairmanship and understood that when he accepted the two loans for below-market rates and no-points acceptance. Countrywide later went belly-up, costing the nation billions of dollars for its easy-terms lending practices, and Dodd has been among the voices blaming the collapse of the lending markets on poor oversight. Well, he ought to know that firsthand, oughtn’t he?
There’s more at stake in this refusal to acknowledge corruption, and we have seen it in Barack Obama’s Cabinet appointments. He and Congress have excused wrongdoing for Tim Geithner that would likely have resulted in criminal prosecution for others because Geithner supposedly belongs to a rarified elite group of technocrats that the nation can’t do without. That stands the rule of law on its head, and put Geithner, Dodd, and others like them beyond the same responsibilities as the rest of us plebes. Dodd, Geithner, and other DC insiders now get a pass from responsibility for their actions simply because of who they know.
Taking sweetheart deals from the industry Dodd oversaw is corruption, regardless of the circumstances. Refusing to pay taxes even after getting reimbursements from one’s employer is tax evasion. When we start making up new names for old crimes based on the relative power of the person who committed them, we have ended the rule of law and created an aristocracy.
Does that sound like Hope and Change to you? Once again, Democrats have made the “culture of corruption” a campaign platform in the worst possible way.