Hensarling Calls for Countrywide Hearings

Posted June 16, 2008 at 11:49am

In the wake of revelations that at least two Senate Democrats received special treatment from Countrywide Financial on their mortgages, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) said Monday that he will call for a series of hearings to determine whether other Members received similar perks.

“With all of the recent turmoil we have been experiencing in our mortgage market, I am concerned about allegations of preferential treatment afforded to some individuals in Congress regarding their mortgages,” Hensarling, who chairs the Republican Study Committee, wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter released Monday.

“Although these reports are still merely allegations, it is disconcerting to think Members of Congress might be knowingly or unknowingly receiving preferential treatment while millions of hardworking Americans struggle to repay their mortgage debts and cope with $4/gallon gasoline and soaring foods prices,” he added.

Hensarling said he would request the hearings in a follow-up letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and “the appropriate chairmen,” but he did not specify which committees he would seek hearings from.

Both Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) vigorously denied any wrongdoing after Portfolio.com reported 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” that included both Senators. No other lawmakers were named in the article.

After reviewing company e-mails provided to him by Portfolio.com reporters, however, Conrad, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, said Saturday 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.

According to news reports, Conrad refinanced his Bethany Beach, Del., vacation home in 2004 with a $1.07 million loan, at which time Countrywide officials reduced fees by nearly $11,000. Conrad said he will donate $10,500 to Habitat for Humanity in an effort to compensate for the benefit.

He also said he will refinance a second mortgage on an eight-unit apartment building in Bismarck, N.D., that he owns with his brothers, stating that the Countrywide-issued loan appears to violate the company’s rules that limit such loans to buildings of four units or fewer.

According to reports, Countrywide similarly waived about $2,700 in costs for two loans to Dodd, 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.

A Conrad spokesman said Friday that the North Dakotan would welcome a Senate Ethics Committee investigation into the matter.