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When Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) started his investigation into a controversial "VIP" mortgage program, he struck partisan gold by tying two powerful Senate Democratic chairmen to mortgage giant Countrywide's alleged attempts to give preferential treatment to influential policymakers.
But after more than three years of blasting the loan program as "public corruption" and "bribery," the House Oversight and Government Reform chairman is treading on politically perilous ground as he vows to continue the probe, which has now identified three House Republicans, including the party's campaign chief and a fellow committee chairman, as VIP members.
"The Oversight Committee continues to press forward with its now more than three-year-long probe of the Countrywide VIP program. Even as the investigation yields new developments, numerous questions about the VIP program remain unanswered. Critics of the investigation have not and will not deter Chairman Issa's commitment to exposing what occurred," Issa spokesman Frederick Hill said in a statement.
The turn in the investigation had Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the top Democrat on the Oversight panel, gleefully pointing to Issa's previous statements. And Issa's office did not make a statement about his intentions until after Cummings wrote the chairman a letter asking for clarification on how the probe would proceed.
Two California Republicans, Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon and retiring Rep. Elton Gallegly, were named Friday by the Wall Street Journal as having been referred by Issa to the House Ethics Committee for involvement in a Countrywide "Friends of Angelo" program — named for the now-defunct company's former CEO Angelo Mozilo.
The Associated Press reported Tuesday that Issa also referred National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) to the Ethics Committee because he received a loan under the VIP program. Issa also referred a fourth Member, Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), to the Ethics panel; Towns has previously denied any impropriety.
Sessions spokeswoman Torrie Miller said the Congressman "specifically requested" that he not receive preferential treatment "out of an abundance of caution in managing his personal finances."
Miller added: "Everything about his experience suggests that his simple request was honored and that he was treated like every other customer. Congressman Sessions welcomes providing any details requested by any House Committee about this loan, which no longer exists."
A spokeswoman for McKeon also said he is "committed to transparency on this — he believes that the actions of Countrywide should be looked into and wants to get to the bottom of what Countrywide did to his loan 13 years ago."
A spokesman for Gallegly said the California Republican received one loan from Countrywide for $77,000 at 5.75 percent interest in 2004, which he paid off in 2005. The spokesman said Gallegly denies any wrongdoing.