No ethics breaches found in Countrywide VIP loans
WASHINGTON (AP) — The House Ethics Committee said Thursday it found no violations among House members whose mortgage loans went through the VIP section of the former Countrywide Financial Corp., the company whose subprime loans helped cause the foreclosure crisis.
The committee said nearly all the allegations of favored treatment involved loans that were granted so long ago that they fell outside the panel's jurisdiction. The committee added, however, that participation in the VIP program did not necessarily mean borrowers received the best loan deal available — and most lawmakers were not even aware they were placed in a VIP unit.
The actions of unnamed House staff members were harshly criticized. Emails indicated they reached out to Countrywide lobbyists for assistance with their personal loans, but those actions also were too old to remain in the committee's jurisdiction. The panel said that if the incidents had been more recent, the staff members could have faced discipline.
Countrywide was taken over by Bank of America in 2008. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee reported in July that Countrywide made hundreds of discount loans to buy influence with members of Congress, congressional staff, top government officials and executives of troubled mortgage giant Fannie Mae.
The Oversight report named six current and former members of Congress who received what Countrywide referred to as discounts. All of their names had surfaced previously.
The committee has no jurisdiction over actions that occurred more than six years prior to the current Congress — which began in January 2011.
But even if the statute of limitations had not run out, the committee said, inclusion in the VIP program was not by itself a violation of House rules or laws. The panel said it found that Countrywide's "discounts" applied to standard loan rates that were commercially available elsewhere.
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