Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said Friday that he would welcome a Senate Ethics Committee investigation into allegations that both he and Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) received special treatment from Countrywide Financial resulting in cut-rate mortgages.
Both lawmakers vigorously denied any wrongdoing after Portfolio.com reported late last week that Countrywide officials had conspired to provide special mortgages including waiving fees and shaving thousands of dollars from loans for multiple properties for a select group of VIPs including both Senators. No other lawmakers were named in the article.
Sen. Conrad would be happy to have a Senate Ethics investigation into Countrywide, spokesman Sean Neary said Friday. Sen. Conrad did nothing wrong.
The North Dakotan announced Saturday, however, that he had reviewed internal Countrywide e-mails provided to him by reporters and acknowledged that the lender did waive fees on one of his mortgages, although he said he made no such request and was unaware of the discount until news reports surfaced.
Subsequently, Conrad said he will donate $10,500 to Habitat for Humanity in an effort to rescind the benefit.
After reviewing the e-mail traffic at Countrywide provided to me by reporters, it appears Countrywide waived one point on my mortgage, Conrad said in a statement Saturday. Although I did not ask for or know that I was receiving a discount, and even though I was offered a competitive loan from another lender, I do not want to have received preferential treatment.
A spokeswoman for the Ethics Committee declined to discuss whether the panel would consider an investigation into the allegations, and Conrads aide could not say whether the Senator would personally request the investigation. A Dodd spokesman declined comment Friday and referred to a statement from the office.
As a United States Senator, I would never ask or expect to be treated differently than anyone else refinancing their home. This suggestion is outrageous and contrary to my entire career in public service, Dodd said.
According to Portfolio.com, which relied in part on Countrywide e-mails, Dodd refinanced two loans in 2003 through Countrywide: one worth $506,000 for his Washington, D.C., town house and a second worth $275,042 for his East Haddam, Conn., home.
The lender waived about $2,700 in costs for both loans, while also allowing the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs chairman to procure lower interest rates than initially available without charging additional fees for the service. The lower rates reduced the overall costs of the loans by about $58,000 and $17,000, respectively.
Similarly, the Web site reported that when Conrad refinanced his Bethany Beach, Del., vacation home in 2004 with a $1.07 million loan, Countrywide officials reduced fees by nearly $11,000. The lender also refinanced an eight-unit apartment building Conrad owns with his brothers in Bismarck, N.D., despite company rules that limit such loans to buildings of four units or fewer.
Conrad announced Saturday that he will refinance that mortgage.
Further, because it is clear from other email traffic at Countrywide just provided to me that they made an exception in providing a loan I have decided to seek refinancing on that property from another lender, he said in a statement.
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