Oct. 24, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER
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Odd Subpoena Imperils Inquiry

Democratic committee spokeswoman Jenny Rosenberg did not return calls Monday for comment, but Republican committee spokesman Kurt Bardella said the decision to distribute mortgage documents to the ethics panel resulted from negotiations between the panel’s leadership that did not directly include the House ethics committee.

“From our vantage point, we were trying to get as much information as we possibly could. The only caveat the majority laid out was making sure Members of Congress went to ethics, and the subpoena not go to Senators,” Bardella said.

But Bardella emphasized that “who got what” is not the focus of the investigation, but rather it is the recent economic crisis tied to subprime loans and other mortgage products.

He declined to say whether the Oversight panel would seek an ethics investigation based on redacted documentation.

“We’re going to see what we have before we make any judgments or any calls,” Bardella said. “I suspect if there is wrongdoing, the pressure from the American people will be pretty significant. There will be a requirement for action just based on that.”

But the Oversight panel’s decision to ship information to the ethics panel — loan documents that could number into the thousands of pages — won’t necessarily trigger an investigation, according to former House ethics aides.

“If ethics received information from the other committee’s subpoenas, they would have to assess the information provided and decide where this fits in their overall investigative priorities,” said Ted Van Der Meid, a former top House ethics aide now at McKenna, Long & Aldridge.

Walker said he expects the committee would examine any documents obtained from the subpoena to be examined under internal rules that allow the panel to consider information from any source in determining whether to begin an investigation, not just from a formal complaint.

“As a practical matter, if the subpoena results in information coming to the committee that indicates there might have been a violation or violations ... it would force the committee to act,” Walker said.

Among the panel’s options, in addition to an investigation, however, could be a referral to the Justice Department.

The House ethics committee does not comment on investigations. It is not known whether the ethics panel has examined Member mortgages since the Countrywide VIP loan program was disclosed in 2008 or whether it plans to do so in the future.

The Senate Ethics Committee spent more than a year reviewing whether Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) or Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) violated the chamber’s rules for loans each received through the Countrywide VIP program.

The Senate panel ultimately cleared both lawmakers but chastised the pair for not being more vigilant about shielding themselves from the appearance of special treatment.

Both Senators had denied wrongdoing and said they never asked for favorable terms on their loans.

Brett Kappel, an ethics lawyer at Arent Fox, said he anticipates that if the ethics panel reviews the mortgage documents, it will mimic the Senate investigation, focusing on fair market values, whether other borrowers of similar economic means received similar interest rates and whether the loans violated gift rules.

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