Surprise, Surprise: Senate Ethics Committee Clears Dodd, Conrad

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Dodd photoAssociated Press reports:

The Senate ethics committee cleared Sens. Chris Dodd and Kent Conrad of breaking rules by getting mortgages through a VIP program, even as it scolded them Friday for not being more careful to avoid the appearance of sweetheart deals.

Apparently, the Committee was so proud of its work that it released its decision on a Friday afternoon in August. This will do nothing to undermine the reputation of both the House and Senate Ethics Committees as laughingstocks.

AP continues:

The Select Committee on Ethics told Dodd of Connecticut and Conrad of North Dakota in separate letters that it found "no substantial credible evidence" after a yearlong investigation that their mortgages from Countrywide Financial Corp. broke Senate gift rules. The two influential Democrats got their mortgages through a VIP program for those designated as "friends" of then-Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo.

We should acknowledge a debt of gratitude to the Senate Ethics Committee. The National Legal and Policy Center was founded in late 1991 following the release of the Senate Ethics Committee report whitewashing the Keating Five. The report made reference to the Code of Ethics for Government, but not by name, presumably for fear of giving it greater standing. NLPC was founded to promote ethics, and to give the Code the visibility it deserves.

NLPC has exposed a number of high profile Congressional scandals. So in a way, the Committee has been effective. It has spurred others to do their work for them.

AP reported on July 27:

Despite their denials, influential Democratic Sens. Kent Conrad and Chris Dodd were told from the start they were getting VIP mortgage discounts from one of the nation's largest lenders, the official who handled their loans has told Congress in secret testimony.

Both senators have said that at the time the mortgages were being written they didn't know they were getting unique deals from Countrywide Financial Corp., the company that went on to lose billions of dollars on home loans to credit-strapped borrowers. Dodd still maintains he got no preferential treatment.

Dodd got two Countrywide mortgages in 2003, refinancing his home in Connecticut and another residence in Washington. Conrad's two Countrywide mortgages in 2004 were for a beach house in Delaware and an eight-unit apartment building in Bismarck in his home state of North Dakota.

Robert Feinberg, who worked in Countrywide's VIP section, told congressional investigators last month that the two senators were made aware that "who you know is basically how you're coming in here."

"You don't say 'no' to the VIP," Feinberg told Republican investigators for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, according to a transcript obtained by The Associated Press.

photo: AP/Wide World