Dodd and Conrad cleared of ethics violations
No evidence found of sweetheart mortgage deals
WASHINGTON - The Senate ethics committee cleared Senators Chris Dodd and Kent Conrad of breaking rules by getting mortgages through a VIP program, even as it scolded them yesterday for not being more careful to avoid the appearance of sweetheart deals.
The Select Committee on Ethics told Dodd of Connecticut and Conrad of North Dakota in separate letters that it found “no substantial credible evidence’’ after a yearlong investigation that their mortgages from Countrywide Financial Corp. broke Senate gift rules. The two Democrats got their mortgages through a VIP program for those designated as “friends’’ of then-Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo.
The committee said participants in the program “were often offered quicker, more efficient loan processing and some discounts,’’ but it also found that those borrowers didn’t necessarily get the best financial deal available. And in both Dodd’s and Conrad’s cases, the panel said the loans they received would have been available to a wide variety of borrowers with comparable financial profiles.
Dodd got two Countrywide mortgages in 2003, refinancing his home in Connecticut and another residence in Washington. Conrad’s two Countrywide mortgages in 2004 were for a beach house in Delaware and an eight-unit apartment building in Bismarck in his home state of North Dakota. Both senators have said that at the time the mortgages were being written, they didn’t know they were in the so-called “Friends of Angelo’’ program, and didn’t think they were getting special deals.
Yesterday, Dodd said he was “pleased and grateful’’ with the committee’s conclusions, adding, “There was no sweetheart or special deal. The allegations have always been false.’’
But the fifth-term Democrat, whose 2010 re-election bid has been badly damaged by the mortgage scandal, also acknowledged having mishandled the allegations, waiting for months to address them in detail or release documents on his loans.
“I think [that] contributed to people’s cynicism and distrust, that maybe I wasn’t telling the truth. And so I blame myself for that. That was a huge mistake I made and I paid a price for it,’’ Dodd said.
Conrad said the ethics panel’s finding “confirms what I have said all along: I did not ask for or receive any preferential pricing on my loans. While I should have shown more vigilance in the appearance of these transactions, the committee has concluded I did nothing unethical, and that is the truth.’’
Both senators are playing pivotal roles in shepherding key elements of President Obama’s agenda through Congress. Dodd heads the Banking Committee, and is also playing a leading role in the healthcare overhaul taking shape on Capitol Hill. Conrad, the Budget Committee chairman, is also a major player in the healthcare debate.
The ethics panel of three Democrats and three Republicans said it heard testimony and pored through 18,000 pages of documents from Countrywide - which has since been bought by
Melanie Sloan, executive director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics that filed a complaint against the two senators, all but called the panel’s findings a whitewash.
“As is its practice, the Senate Ethics Committee has cleared the senators of any wrongdoing despite the fact that the senators participated in a program the committee found ‘offered quicker, more efficient loan processing and some discounts,’ ’’ she said in a statement.