Whether you believe in Eric Schneiderman’s ability to deliver a legitimate investigation on mortgage securitization fraud or not, you have to admit that the united front on opposition to a settlement on foreclosure fraud collapsed the moment that he agreed to helm that federal investigatory task force. He immediately separated “pre-bubble” and “post-bubble” conduct, allowing for a settlement on the latter while he joined the investigation on the former. And eventually, every other AG on the Democratic side fell in line, as they didn’t have New York as an anchor to stay out of a settlement.
That’s just what happened. And now we have HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan and Iowa AG Tom Miller, head of the executive committee that settled on foreclosure fraud, clowning Schneiderman on the record, saying that he got next to nothing in exchange for his holdout.
Schneiderman, by the way, PARTICIPATED in this story. The story by Glenn Thrush frames a battle between Donovan and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on whether to force banks to reduce principal on loans as part of the settlement:
In fact, Donovan’s preferred approach to solving the worst housing meltdown in U.S. history — forcing banks to write down a relatively modest amount in mortgage principal to help out homeowners — won out over initial objections of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, a boogeyman to many liberals who think he’s been too soft to punish the One Percent.
“Something really changed [in the White House] after ‘Occupy.’… Shaun was a lot more empowered to make a deal,” said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who wrangled with Donovan during months of negotiations between 50 state law enforcement agencies, HUD, the Justice Department and five of the nation’s largest banks.
Schneiderman — who repeatedly prodded Donovan to take a tougher line with lenders — said he noticed Donovan gaining “more leverage” over Geithner last fall, as the White House political message morphed from compromise and deficit reduction to economic equality and helping out the middle class.
Geithner, of course, took the “moral hazard” line, saying that bailing out homeowners would set a dangerous precedent. This must have never come up with respect to Citi and BofA and AIG.
But the entire frame of this is a bit lopsided. There is no guarantee that the settlement will lead to the maximum amount of $32 billion in principal reduction that Donovan hypes. In fact, the government’s own press release only guarantees “at least $10 billion” in principal reduction. Needless to say, even the high-end amount is next to nothing relative to the scale of the problem for underwater borrowers. And according to this article, Geithner was won over when he learned that the program would not be “overly punitive.” We’ve chronicled the numerous ways in which the banks make out very easy on the deal, and can even profit off it.
But the interesting part of the story concerns Donovan’s work on Schneiderman. After a New York Times article about Schneiderman coming under pressure to settle, Donovan went to work:
That did it for Donovan, according to people close to him. Worried that the settlement was in danger of falling apart, he woke up at 5 a.m. the next morning and sketched the outline of what would emerge as the final compromise plan.
A bit later he called Schneiderman, who immediately began re-arguing his case for holding banks accountable.
Donovan stopped him: “Look, hear me out, I want to get past this,” he said, and proposed creating a special panel to probe wrongdoing by banks, to be co-chaired by Schneiderman. He also promised to limit the scope of any releases granted to the banks and rewrote his draft.
Miller, who clashed with Schneiderman over the releases, said Donovan didn’t make many changes but was artful enough to sell it as a compromise to the New York attorney general, who wanted to seal the deal.
“Essentially what Shaun did was let Eric take credit for shaping the release,” Miller said, “credit that wasn’t factually correct.”
Wow. This is on the record, with Miller saying that the release only looks like it was tailored to Schneiderman’s specifications. Miller, by the way, was announced today as one of President Obama’s re-election campaign co-chairs.
Schneiderman has promised that he would walk away from the task force if he found it insufficient, with his co-chairs slow-walking the investigation. With the task force barely begun, here’s the head of the state settlement and insiders close to Donovan just out-and-out clowning him, alleging that Donovan bait-and-switched him. We’re waiting for that walk-away any time now.
UPDATE: I should add that I don’t particularly believe Miller, who has shown no problem with lying in public in the past (he’s the guy who said “We will put people in jail,” remember). It was reported back in September that securitization liability releases were in the settlement. But I think what’s important here is that Miller is saying this on the record, basically laughing in Schneiderman’s face.