National Editorial: Time to launch investigation into pols’ sweetheart loans

There are supposed to be a bunch of junkyard dogs on the House Oversight Committee ever eager to expose waste, fraud and hypocrisy regardless of where it’s found.

When bailed-out banks paid multiple millions in bonuses to executives, their CEOs had to answer to the angry members of the committee. Others on the receiving end of the panel’s steely gaze this year include some of the federal officials administering the economic stimulus package and overseeing the TARP program.

But today, committee members will show just how steely their gaze really is when they decide whether to investigate former Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo and the “Friends of Angelo” program through which he gave sweetheart loans to influential members of Congress. Democrats’ reluctance to touch this subject is understandable, but still inexcusable. So far, only Democrats have been exposed as “Friends of Angelo” recipients, including Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad of North Dakota, plus two Democratic former CEOs of Fannie Mae, Franklin Raines and Jim Johnson.

But there also may be a connection closer to home. On the House Oversight Committee itself, Chairman Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., received two mortgages from Countrywide. The Wall Street Journal reported two months ago that they appear to have come through the “Friends of Angelo” program. Towns has resisted all attempts to investigate the program further.

Today, Rep. Darrell Issa of California, the ranking Republican on the oversight committee, will ask Democrats to put up or shut up by seeking a recorded vote to subpoena the Countrywide documents that could reveal much more about sweetheart loans — not only to Towns, Dodd and Conrad, but possibly to other lawmakers so far unidentified. Issa contends his interest is not partisan. Given that Republicans controlled Congress when the program was in full swing, there are bound to be Republican “Friends of Angelo” out there whose names have yet to be made public. Issa wants to know and he can force a vote on the subpoenas even if Towns rules his request out of order.

When this happens today, we will have answers to several key questions. For example, will Towns recuse himself, given his apparent conflict of interest? Are there written transcripts of the customer satisfaction recordings of Dodd talking to Countrywide officials that mysteriously disappeared a few weeks ago? Most importantly, which committee members in both parties are serious about oversight and which prefer to overlook?

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