Ethics Dismisses Complaints Against Dodd, Conrad

Posted August 7, 2009 at 12:12pm

Updated: 3:25 p.m.The Senate Ethics Committee announced Friday it will dismiss complaints against Sens. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) over whether mortgages they received from Countrywide violated Senate gift rules, but the panel chastised the pair for failing to use “more vigilance— to ensure they were not receiving special treatment.“While the Committee finds no substantial credible evidence as required by Committee rules that your Countrywide mortgages violated Senate ethics rules, the Committee does believe that you should have exercised more vigilance in your dealings with Countrywide in order to avoid the appearance that you were receiving preferential treatment based on your status as a Senator,— said separate letters by the Ethics Committee to Dodd and Conrad.The letters also stated: “The Committee has found no evidence that you sought entrance into the V.I.P. loan unit. However, once you became aware that your loans were in fact being handled through a program with the name V.I.P.,’ that should have raised red flags for you and compelled you to find out exactly how you became a member of the V.I.P. unit, whether you may have been offered treatment based on your official position, and very specifically if you were receiving preferential treatment not available to other borrowers with similar loan profiles.—The committee issued the letters in response to a complaint filed by the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington in June 2008. The CREW complaint came on the heels of media reports that Dodd and Conrad had received loans via a Countrywide Financial VIP program, also known as “Friends of Angelo,— after Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo.“The Committee treated this matter very seriously and took every possible step during the course of its year-long inquiry to obtain information from multiple sources, including issuing subpoenas for detailed contemporaneous documents and testimony, while needing to be attentive to the concerns raised by parallel investigation,— both letters state, referring to a Justice Department investigation.The letters, which note the committee reviewed 18,000 pages of documents, said Dodd and Conrad received loan rates and terms similar to those available to other borrowers with “comparable profiles.—“After examining the extensive record before it, the Committee found no credible evidence that you knowingly accepted a gift, including a loan not available to the public,— both letters state.Dodd received two mortgages from Countrywide in 2003, one each for his home in Washington, D.C., and his home in East Haddam, Conn. Conrad refinanced a Bethany Beach, Del., vacation home in 2004 and an eight-unit apartment building in Bismarck, N.D.The Ethics Committee indicated it may issue additional guidance on negotiating mortgages to Senators and their aides in the future.“The Committee also recognizes that it has not previously offered specific guidance to Senators, officers, and employees on the matters they should consider when negotiating mortgages and other financial transactions,— both letters conclude. “The Committee should proactively provide more guidance to the Senate community about issues surrounding mortgage negotiations and encourages Senators, officers, and employees to seek proper guidance concerning participating in any programs like the one addressed here.—Despite the committee’s dismissal of the complaint, Ethics Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and ranking member Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) introduced a bill Thursday night that would “require full and complete public disclosure of the terms of home mortgages held by Members of Congress,— according to the Congressional Record.CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan disparaged the panel’s decision to clear both Senators.“Apparently, clearing the senators was insufficient penance for the committee for having the audacity to investigate in the first place,— Sloan said in a statement. “Like a battered woman who explains she brought the beating on herself, the committee faulted itself for failing to provide more guidance to the Senate community about issues surrounding mortgage negotiations.’—In a statement issued Friday, Dodd, who had denied wrongdoing, praised the panel’s decision.“I’ve said all along that I welcomed a close examination of my mortgages, and I’ve also said all along that [my wife] Jackie [Dodd] and I received the same mortgages that anyone else could have received,— Dodd said. “But I will say this. I understand that my reaction to those false allegations only served to foster cynicism. And that was my fault,— he added. “I’m confident the people of Connecticut will be glad to know that I’ve been cleared. But I also want them to know that I’ve learned from this experience.—