I keep hearing from everyone “in the know” that these foreclosure fraud settlement talks are just about wrapped up. Surely everyone’s just practicing their signatures for the big signing ceremony, right? Except that there hasn’t really been any news on the settlement for a few weeks. And now the number 3 at the Justice Department, Thomas Perrelli, the central figure running the talks from the federal government side, will step down in a couple months.

Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli will leave the third highest-ranking post at the Justice Department in March after nearly three years managing a bustling portfolio that has run the gamut from mortgage abuses and the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to stamping out domestic violence in Indian country [...]

One of his biggest efforts has yet to come to fruition. For more than a year, the Justice Department and state attorneys general have been hammering out a settlement with the country’s largest mortgage servicing companies over faulty paperwork and forclosure abuses known as “robo signing” that helped push people out of their homes. The process has been complicated and sometimes fractious, as top lawyers for the state of California and New York criticized the process as going too soft on the banks.

Aside from the obvious fact that there’s not going to be a number three at Justice for the next year, because Obama made four recess appointments over the holiday break and Republicans are so mad about it they’re going to retaliate as soon as they get back from vacation, Marcy Wheeler writes that this “sets a finite deadline” for the foreclosure fraud settlement. I actually think it seals its fate. No deadline has yet been responded to on the settlement. Aside from the half-dozen or so Democrats who aren’t on board, there are plenty of Republicans who don’t want to see the banks take any penalty at all. The talks haven’t even gotten around to that persuasion stage, as there remain outstanding issues with the banks in terms of the nature of the penalties and the level of release from liability.

I’ve probably received half a dozen appeals from progressive groups this past week or so urging the Administration to avoid this settlement and investigate the banks for their crimes. Working America’s is a representative sample. That’s what these groups should do, they should impose pressure against a weak settlement when no investigations have determined the extent of the fraud. But with Perrelli, who has really controlled the talks and isn’t all that replaceable, leaving in a matter of months, I have a feeling they’re going to be able to announce victory soon.