A year ago, we proposed that the sudden interest of House Ethics Committee Chairman Darrell Issa's interest in pursuing old-hat charges of mischief against certain House members arising out of Countrywide's infamous "Friend of Angelo's" VIP loan program that people like Chris Dodd and Pete Conrad took advantage of, was motivated by pure election year politics. Now that the elections are over, it's hardly surprising that Issa has concluded that there's nothing he can do about the alleged ethics violations, but not because there's no fire beneath the smoke.
The committee said nearly all the allegations of favored treatment involved loans that were granted so long ago that they fell outside the panel's jurisdiction. The committee added, however, that participation in the VIP program did not necessarily mean borrowers received the best loan deal available - and most lawmakers were not even aware they were placed in a VIP unit.
The actions of unnamed House staff members were harshly criticized. Emails indicated they reached out to Countrywide lobbyists for assistance with their personal loans, but those actions also were too old to remain in the committee's jurisdiction. The panel said that if the incidents had been more recent, the staff members could have faced discipline.
In other words, House members' staff were well aware of the benefits of the program and sought preferential treatment, but their bosses were blissfully ignorant. This reminds me of the Soprano's episode where Tony never outright tells Ralph Cifaretto to whack Jackie Aprile, Jr., but artfully words a statement of "support" for whatever decision that Ralphie makes so that Cifaretto knows he's got to put a bullet in the back of the kid's head if he wants to keep inhaling oxygen. Deniability: it's not just for the Mafia.
The use of the statute of limitations rationale as the primary excuse for non-action reinforces the cynic's belief that the modus operandi of Issa, his Democratic predecessor, and all similarly-situated kleptocrats is, when faced with claims of wrongdoing by fellow members of the political class is to putz around for however long it takes to pass the limitations period. By then, most folks will have forgotten completely about the original charges, which is certainly the case with the FOA loans. The only folks with long memories are bloggers with a burr under their saddle.
I find particularly grating the allegation by Issa's committee that there was no evidence that the FOA loan terms were any better than members of Congress could have found elsewhere. So all those members got those particular loans from Countrywide because they liked Countrywide's pretty logo? The criticized staff members "who may have reached out to lobbyists or other government affairs officials at Countrywide for assistance with their personal loans" did so because they all woke up in a Countrywide frame of mind in the morning?
Issa added that his committee found that Countrywide employees viewed their VIP program as a tool to build relationships with those positioned to influence the company's business interests, including government officials.
They hoped to build influence with public officials by offering them loan terms that those officials could have obtained from other lenders. That makes sense, doesn't it?
Applying the theory that when you're being shameless, you might as well give the public The Full Monty, Issa claims that the committee's report is a deterrent to other lenders who might want to set up a loan program in the future that will attempt to offer politicians the same loan terms that everyone else receives and thereby curry favor with those politicians.
"While short of formally determining a violation, this sends an unmistakable warning to any entity that might try to duplicate Countrywide's lobbying strategy," he said.
Don't worry, Darrell. Only a fictional lender would attempt to duplicate your fictional loan program.