Traficant, obviously drunk in this video , was thrown out of Congress and jailed for doing a lot less damage than what has been done by Washington lawmakers with the banking and mortgage mess.
Senate VIP Loans Mount
Countrywide Dealt With More Lawmakers and Staffers Than Previously Known
By JOHN R. EMSHWILLER WSJ
U.S. senators or Senate employees received 30 loans—far more than had previously been known—under a controversial lending program at Countrywide Financial Corp. that provided cut-rate terms to favored borrowers.
The information is contained in a letter sent to the Senate Select Committee on Ethics by Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), who has been spearheading the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's investigation into Countrywide's so-called VIP mortgage program.
No specific loan recipients were named in the letter. But Mr. Issa's letter said borrowers on a dozen loans listed their place of employment as the office of "Senator Robert Bennett." Available public records don't indicate that Sen. Bennett, a Utah Republican and member of the Senate Banking Committee, received a Countrywide home loan.
Sens. Christopher Dodd (D., Conn.) and Kent Conrad (D., N.D.), have previously been identified among the high-profile individuals who received such loans. Both senators have denied wrongdoing. Until the Issa letter, no other senators or their staff members had been linked to the VIP loan program.
A spokeswoman for Sen. Bennett didn't respond to questions. Sen. Bennett recently lost his primary election battle and will be leaving the Senate in January after 18 years.
A spokesman for the Senate Ethics panel declined to comment. A spokesman for Bank of America Corp., which in 2008 acquired Countrywide, said the company had cooperated with the investigation by the House committee.
The VIP program operated during the housing boom earlier this decade, often writing mortgages with terms more favorable than those available to the general public. An estimated 28,000 loans were made, mostly to private parties such as Countrywide employees or their friends and relatives.
The House Oversight panel, where Mr. Issa is the ranking Republican member, is probing whether such loans were issued to public officials in an attempt to influence them. Last year, the committee subpoenaed VIP loan records from Bank of America.
In his letter dated July 13, Mr. Issa wrote that on seven loans not tied to Mr. Bennett's office, the borrowers listed their place of employment as "U.S. Senator." Another 11 listed the "U.S. Senate." In response to questions, a spokesman for Mr. Issa said the House committee didn't receive the names of the borrowers from Bank of America.
More than one loan could have gone to the same person, such as a mortgage and a separate home-equity line of credit. Mr. Conrad received four Countrywide loans, a spokesman for the senator said. Mr. Dodd reportedly received at least two. Their loans were presumably included in the 30.
Mr. Issa's letter said that many of the 30 loans were made in 2002 and 2003, at the beginning of a national "mortgage boom" that helped make Countrywide for a time the nation's biggest home lender. Increasing problems in its loan portfolio led to Countrywide's takeover and contributed to the widespread economic upheaval that hit the country in 2008.
The letter said the House committee's investigation had found that Countrywide used the VIP loan program to "build relationships with government officials."
Mr. Issa's letter said he was sending the information to the Senate Ethics panel, because his House committee didn't investigate ethics matters involving the Senate.
The House Oversight panel is still gathering information from Bank of America regarding VIP loans given to congressmen and their staffers, Mr. Issa's spokesman said. Such information is expected to include the names of at least some individual borrowers. Mr. Issa's spokesman declined to comment on what information was emerging in that investigation.
The Countrywide VIP loan program first hit the headlines two years ago with news reports about mortgages going to prominent individuals.
The Senate Ethics panel looked into the loans to Messrs. Dodd and Conrad, and last year cleared both men of any rule violations. The committee did say both "should have exercised more vigilance" in their dealings with Countrywide. On Wednesday, spokesmen for Messrs. Dodd and Conrad said questions about the senators' conduct had been resolved by the Ethics panel's findings.
Mr. Issa's efforts to investigate the VIP loan program were stymied for a time by the unwillingness of the House oversight panel's chairman, New York Democrat Edolphus Towns, to issue a subpoena to Bank of America for the VIP program records.
Last August, The Wall Street Journal reported that public loan documents indicated Rep. Towns had received two mortgages from the VIP program. At the time of the story, a spokeswoman for Mr. Towns said he didn't seek any preferential treatment and hadn't heard of the VIP loan program until the 2008 news reports. She added that Mr. Towns's unwillingness to issue a subpoena had nothing to do with his Countrywide loans. Subsequently, he decided to issue the subpoena.
Countrywide's business and financial-reporting practices are under criminal investigation by the Justice Department, which has declined to comment on the probe.
The Securities and Exchange Commission has a pending civil fraud suit against three former top company executives, including longtime Chief Executive Angelo Mozilo. The three have denied wrongdoing, and a trial is scheduled for October in a Los Angeles federal court.