The Administration has managed the impressive task of operating in a more cynical fashion than even its worst critics predicted.
Remember the widely ballyhooed mortgage fraud investigation, announced at the State of the Union address? This was the shiny toy that succeeded in getting New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman to abandon his opposition to the mortgage settlement. Schneiderman had been the defacto leader of the dissenters by virtue both of being the first to stand against the effort and by having the Martin Act. Suborning Schneiderman put the objecting state attorneys general in disarray and enabled the Administration to push this toxic deal over the finish line.
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It was pretty obvious Schneiderman had been had. Obama tellingly did not mention his name in the SOTU. Schneiderman was only a co-chairman of the effort and would still stay on in his day job as state AG, begging the question of how much time he would be able to spend on the task force. His co-chairman is Lanny Breuer from the missing-in-action Department of Justice. And most important, no one on the committee was head of an agency, again demonstrating that this wasn’t a top Administration priority.
The Administration started undercutting Schneiderman almost immediately. He announced that the task force would have “hundreds” of investigators. Breuer said it would have only 55, a simply pathetic number (the far less costly savings & loan crisis had over 1000 FBI agents assigned to it). And they taunted him publicly by exposing that he hadn’t gotten a tougher release as he has claimed to justify his sabotage.
We had assumed that the Administration would engage in a Potemkin version of an investigation, bringing a few cases close to the election to generate deceptive and useful “tough on crime” headlines. But having succeeded in protecting the banks, it looks like they can’t even be bothered to go through the motions. This update comes from the New York Daily News (hat tip Matt Stoller):
On March 9 — 45 days after the speech and 30 days after the announcement — we met with Schneiderman in New York City and asked him for an update…As of that date, he had no office, no phones, no staff and no executive director. None of the 55 staff members promised by Holder had materialized. On April 2, we bumped into Schneiderman on a train leaving Washington for New York and learned that the situation was the same.
Tuesday, calls to the Justice Department’s switchboard requesting to be connected with the working group produced the answer, “I really don’t know where to send you.” After being transferred to the attorney general’s office and asking for a phone number for the working group, the answer was, “I’m not aware of one.”…
In fact, the new Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group was the sixth such entity formed since the start of the financial crisis in 2009. The grand total of staff working for all of the previous five groups was one, according to a surprised Schneiderman. In Washington, where staffs grow like cherry blossoms, this is a remarkable occurrence.
We are led to conclude that Donovan was right. The settlement and working group — taken together — were a coup: a public relations coup for the White House and the banks…
But for 12 million American homeowners, collectively $700 billion under water, this was just another in a long series of sham transactions.
However, we disagree with the charitable conclusion made by the Daily News:
Schneiderman, who has acted boldly and honorably, should distance himself from this cynical arrangement. He should resign and go back to working effectively with fellow attorneys general in Delaware, Massachusetts and Nevada.
As we indicated, Schneiderman’s actions were neither bold nor honorable. Not surprisingly, his effort at a star turn in the national media has not led to favorable poll results for him in New York. And the Daily News offers a fantasy as an alternative. There is no “going back.” The attorneys general gave up their best legal theories, and with it, their ability to protect the integrity of title, for grossly inadequate compensation and a photo opportunity.
It would be better if we were proven wrong, but Schneiderman entered into an obvious Faustian pact. He’s not getting his soul or his reputation back.