Congressman asks Holder about DOJ Countrywide settlement

By Michael P. Tremoglie | Jan 27, 2012


WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee has sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder expressing concern over the Department of Justice's settlement with Countrywide Financia.

Lamar Smith, R-Texas, sent the letter Wednesday, saying the terms of the settlement between the DOJ and Countrywide will permit large sums of money to those with close political ties to President Barack Obama.

The letter, recently obtained by Legal Newsline, said, "... this sort of backdoor funding of the president's political allies would be an abuse of the Department's law enforcement authority. Accordingly, I would like to learn more about how the Department plans to enforce certain aspects of this settlement."

Last month, the DOJ and Countrywide entered into a settlement that required Countrywide to deposit $335 million into an interest­bearing escrow account. The funds represented what was essentially a fine for violations of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and Fair Housing Act.

It resolved allegations that Countrywide Financial Corporation and its subsidiaries engaged in a widespread pattern or practice of discrimination against qualified African-American and Hispanic borrowers in their mortgage lending from 2004 through 2008. The Countrywide settlement was considered the largest such settlement in history and will be paid by Bank of America which now owns the company.

Smith noted that "Paragraphs 7 through 9 of the Settlement empower the Department to 'identify aggrieved persons With respect to race and national origin discrimination claims' and 'specify the amount each allegedly aggrieved person' shall receive."

But as he said, "Conspicuously missing from the Settlement are any guidelines by which the Department shall determine who is an 'aggrieved person' or how much he or she shall receive. In short, the only criterion for status as an 'aggrieved person' is that the Department says so."

He continues by saying, "Without any criteria by which 'aggrieved person' or 'qualified organization' status is to be determined, I am concerned that the Settlement may provide a means by which money is doled out to heavily political organizations or to groups with close political ties to the White House.

"For example, had it not disbanded in the wake of allegations of corruption, would ACORN have qualified to receive money under the Settlement because of its advertised mission to assist racial minorities with housing issues notwithstanding its overt efforts to assist the president's 2008 campaign? I would like to understand how the Department intends to identify who is an 'aggrieved person' and determine which groups are 'qualified organizations.'"

He concludes the letter by requesting a response by Feb. 12.

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