Thomas Perrelli

Bank Bailout Day, February 9, 2012

I may or may not have more to say about this.

But I’m thinking of declaring this Bank Bailout Day, a holiday of the stature of President’s day.

Forty-nine states, every one but Oklahoma, as well as federal regulators, will participate in a foreclosure fraud settlement that will release the five biggest banks (Wells Fargo, Citi, Ally/GMAC, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America) and their mortgage servicing units from liability for robo-signing and other forms of servicer abuse, in exchange for $25 billion in funding for legal aid, refinancing, short sales, restitution for wrongful foreclosures and principal reduction for underwater borrowers. The announcement will be made on Thursday.

[click through for the details]

And then there’s the settlement price: $25 billion, divided up several ways. $3 billion will go toward refinancing for current borrowers who are underwater on their loans, as well as short sales. $5 billion will go as a hard cash penalty to the states, which can use them for legal aid services, foreclosure mitigation programs, and ongoing fraud investigations in other areas (one official close to the talks feared that much of that hard cash payout will go in some Republican states toward filling their budget holes). The federal government will get a cash penalty as well. Out of that $5 billion, up to 750,000 borrowers wrongfully foreclosed upon will get a $1,800-$2,000 check if they sign up for it, the equivalent of saying to them “sorry we stole your home, here’s two months rent.”

If you read DDay’s full post (or if you’ve read anything here), it’s clear that the amount of fraud was astronomical: 60% failures in one case. And if you’ve read that far, you know this is a bail out, every much as the billions gifted to banks in September 2008 was a bailout.

The Administration wants to call this a settlement.

What Do You Call a “Cornhusker Kickback” for California?

Remember the “Cornhusker Kickback“? That was the $45 million in expanded Medicaid funding Ben Nelson demanded from the Obama Administration before he’d support Health Insurance Reform. The special treatment for Nebraska gave the reform effort a tawdry feel.

And just as importantly, it did nothing to improve Nelson’s popularity in his own state. When he announced he would not run for reelection in December, reporters pointed to the Cornhusker Kickback as one issue that was making his reelection increasingly unlikely.

Nelson obtained a huge controversial provision in that legislation — derisively called the “Cornhusker Kickback” by GOP opponents — that called for the federal government to pay Nebraska’s costs for Medicaid expansion, potentially saving the state tens of millions of dollars annually. The provision was ultimately killed, but Nelson still paid a political price. Nelson adamantly denied that he traded his support for the Democratic health plan in exchange for the special provision, yet his standing back home took a big hit. Nelson proved to be the 60th and deciding vote for the Democratic health-care package.

Yet it seems like Obama’s trying something similar in his effort to get CA’s Kamala Harris to join in his foreclosure settlement, with $10 billion in aid slated for CA’s struggling homeowners.

Banks and government negotiators have cleared a big hurdle in efforts to resolve allegations of widespread mortgage-related misdeeds, agreeing on terms for a settlement that are being circulated to the 50 US states for approval, state officials and a bank representative say.

The proposed pact would potentially reduce mortgage balances and monthly payments by more than $25bn for distressed US homeowners, these five people said.

The tentative agreement still must be approved by all 50 state attorneys-general, and negotiators have previously missed proposed deadlines. Participants described the proposal terms as set, meaning the states will be asked either to agree to them or decline to participate.

The amount of potential aid is contingent on state participation and would decrease significantly if big states do not sign the agreement. New York and California are among several states that have voiced concerns about the terms of the proposed deal with Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Ally Financial. New York and California are particularly concerned with the part of the deal that would absolve the banks of civil liability for allegedly illegal mortgage-related conduct.

California borrowers would be eligible to receive more than $10bn in aid if the state were to agree to the terms, according to several people involved in the talks.

Don’t get me wrong. In this case, there’s good reason to give CA a disproportionate part of the settlement funds. Continue reading

Obama’s Housing Campaign

Let’s connect a few data points.

Last Friday, Jame Dimon demanded that all the players (except the actual homeowners) get locked into a room until some leader solved the housing problem he and his buddies created.

On Sunday, the Administration promised, for what seems the bajillioninth time, to really do something about foreclosures.

On Monday, the Democrats confirmed that Obama will accept his nomination at Bank of America stadium. They did this to have more skyboxes they could sell to the 1%.

Then on Wednesday, Shawn Donovan rolled out the latest incarnation of the foreclosure settlement–one which still helps just a small fraction of families suffering because the housing bubble crashed.

And now the Administration has a meeting planned for January 23–what sounds like just the meeting DImon demanded–to iron out the last bits of such a minimally helpful settlement. There are two details of this meeting that are especially noteworthy.

First, only the Democratic Attorneys General appear to be invited.

Materials about the proposed deal are being sent to all states, and Democratic attorneys general have been asked to meet on Jan. 23 with Miller, Donovan and Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli, said Geoff Greenwood, a spokesman for Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller.

[snip]

Republican attorneys general will separately discuss the proposed settlement by phone the same day with their Republican counterparts on the negotiating committee in addition to Donovan and Perrelli, Greenwood said.

[my emphasis]

Even better? This meeting is in Chicago!

At the Jan. 23 meeting in Chicago, the federal and state officials will answer questions and discuss details of the potential deal in an effort to win support, Greenwood said.

None of the named principles of this discussion live in Chicago. Thomas Perelli is in DC. Shawn Donovan is in DC. Tom Miller is in IA. Even the banksters are from NY and Charlotte.

The one thing that’s in Chicago, of course, is Obama’s campaign headquarters. (Outgoing Chief of Staff and now campaign Co-Chair and former–future?–JP Morgan exec Bill Daley? He lives in Chicago!)

So to “solve” the foreclosure problem, we’re going to invite a bunch of people–but only the Democrats–to Obama’s campaign headquarter city to hammer out something that really only helps a fraction of those affected.

Yes we can.

Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli to Leave DOJ in March

The guy in charge of–among other things–the elusive foreclosure fraud settlement with the banksters just told NPR’s Carrie Johnson he’ll be leaving in March.

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.

Perrelli, 45, says that he’ll take several months off to spend with his growing family. He and his wife have a five-year-old, a two-year-old, and a pair of twins due in May. “This is the best job I’ll ever have,” Perrelli tells us, “you really couldn’t ask for better.” But, long hours spent overseeing Justice Department units that handle tax, civil rights, environment, antitrust, civil cases and billions of dollars in federal grant programs has taken “an enormous amount of energy and commitment and sacrifice.”

As Johnson points out, Perrelli has had his fingers in a number of contentious issues: the Cobell settlement and the BP investigation. But I suspect it also sets a finite deadline for the foreclosure fraud settlement, rumored to be imminent for about a year.

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.

And then, of course, there’s the question of a replacement–because there’s no way Republicans are going to confirm anyone for a functional post at a Department of Justice they like to claim is responsible for sending guns to Mexican drug cartels.

Just what this country needs, a DOJ even more hampered by missing key operational executives.

Why Is Thomas Perrelli Negotiating a Settlement If the Banksters Didn’t Commit Fraudulent Actions?

In his press conference today, Obama said,

Well, first, on the issue of — on the issue of prosecutions on Wall Street, one of the biggest problems about the collapse of Lehman’s and the subsequent financial crisis and the whole subprime lending fiasco is that a lot of that stuff wasn’t necessarily illegal, it was just immoral or inappropriate or reckless.

[snip]

So you know, without commenting on particular prosecutions — obviously, that’s not my job; that’s the attorney general’s job – you know, I think part of people’s frustrations — part of my frustration was a lot of practices that should not have been allowed weren’t necessarily against the law, but they had a huge destructive impact. And that’s why it was important for us to put in place financial rules that protect the American people from reckless decision-making and irresponsible behavior.

[snip]

The president can’t go around saying prosecute somebody. But as a general principle, if somebody is engaged in fraudulent actions, they need to be prosecuted. If they’ve violated laws on the books, they need to be prosecuted. And that’s the attorney general’s job. And I know that Attorney General Holder, U.S. attorneys all across the country — they take that job very seriously. [my emphasis]

His comments are funny for a number of reasons. Apparently, the President can’t go around saying “prosecute somebody,” but he can go around saying, “assassinate somebody.”

More curiously, though, he insists that if someone has engaged in “fraudulent actions, they need to be prosecuted.”

FHFA has sued 18 banks, a number of them for fraud, most of them in federal court. As part of those suits, it has sued a number of named individuals. DOJ, however, seems to have no interest in all those entities accused of fraud.

More troubling still, mortgage servicers have, in sworn depositions, admitted to fraud of a variety of types.

And yet Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli is busy trying to craft a settlement–not a prosecution–with those who engaged in this fraud. (And in the wake of CA’s withdrawal from the settlement talks, the banks are crowing that DOJ is still going to sign such a deal.)

The Administration needs to be asked not just why no big banksters have been prosecuted, but also why in the face of massive fraudulent actions, DOJ is choosing to settle, rather than prosecute.

Why Blame the Failure of the 50-State Settlement Solely on Tom Miller?

Yesterday, CA Attorney General Kamala Harris announced she was withdrawing from the 50-state foreclosure fraud settlement.

California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris will no longer take part in a national foreclosure probe of some of the nation’s biggest banks, which are accused of pervasive misconduct in dealing with troubled homeowners.

Harris removed herself from talks by a coalition of state attorneys general and federal agencies investigating abusive foreclosure practices because the nation’s five largest mortgage servicers were not offering California homeowners relief commensurate to what people in the state had suffered, a person familiar with the matter said.

The big banks were also demanding to be granted overly broad immunity from legal claims that could potentially derail further investigations into Wall Street’s role in the mortgage meltdown, the person said.

With CA–the largest state and the one with the greatest foreclosure exposure–this effectively kills the settlement. See DDay for more on why Harris made this decision and what it means going forward.

But Harris’ letter announcing her decision makes something else (which had become increasingly obvious in recent weeks) clear.

Harris gives US Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli, not IA Attorney General Tom Miller, top billing on her letter.

This failure has become Perrelli’s baby as much as it is Miller’s.

When they held their last ditch attempt to save this meeting last week, they met in DC, not in IA or some other central location. And the settlement reportedly discussed at that meeting was heavily skewed towards giving the same people who fucked up HAMP another shot at trying to solve the housing situation.

About 80 per cent of the settlement figure, earmarked for the federal government, could be used to fund another round of debt and payment reductions for struggling US homeowners, people with knowledge of the Illinois document said. That would be split between principal reductions on first-lien mortgages and junior liens; payment forbearance for unemployed borrowers; and short sales, blight remediation and transition assistance for homeowners to move into rentals.

The remainder, about $4bn-$4.4bn in cash, could be designated for the states, which then would divide the proceeds to fund a variety of programmes, including assistance to borrowers. About half that amount could be used to pay up to $2,000 to an estimated 1.1m aggrieved borrowers who allege they were harmed by improper practices. [my emphasis]

So when Harris wrote…

California is hurting. We have the most homes and most home borrowers in default. During the period we have been negotiating, more than 560,000 additional homes in California have fallen into the foreclosure process. When we began this process 11 months ago, five of the ten cities hardest hit nationally by foreclosures were in California. Today, eight of those ten hardest-hit cities are here. And, recently, at the same time that we have been negotiating in good faith, foreclosures in California have surged again.

[snip]

Last week, I went to Washington, D.C. in hopes of moving our discussions forward. But it became clear to me that California was being asked for a broader release of claims than we can accept and to excuse conduct that has not been adequately investigated. In return for this broad release of claims, the relief contemplated would allow far too few California homeowners to stay in their homes.

What she was saying, politely but nevertheless saying, is that giving a state like CA that has been devastated by foreclosures perhaps $500 million to deal with the aftermath, and in the process let the banks off the legal hook for abuses beyond just robo-signing just won’t fly.

The Obama Administration may have been offering Harris less than $1,000 per each new homeowner who has fallen into default (to say nothing of all the previous foreclosures), whereas in a state settlement, NV Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto was able to get about $57,000 per affected homeowner in a Morgan Stanley settlement.

That tells you two things. First, the Obama Administration still doesn’t understand the extent of the damage the banksters they are trying to protect have done. They don’t understand the scale of the challenges facing states and towns and homeowners affected by the banks’ crimes. And second, the “Department of Justice” was ready to sign away justice for scraps with which to fund another ineffectual Treasury-run program without, first, having forced the banks to face the full consequences of what will happen if they don’t offer principal write-downs.

In other words, if you didn’t already know it, DOJ was (and presumably still is) actively looking for ways not just to ignore the banksters’ crimes, but to help them avoid the non-legal consequences of those crimes, too. Which sort of explains the vitriol directed at Eric Schneiderman of late. Two prosecutors, after all, can conduct a national investigation of the banksters’ crimes, DOJ, and the NY Attorney General. And by refusing to go along with the criminally stupid deal Perrelli was negotiating, Schneiderman has made it a lot harder for for DOJ to sponsor yet more injustice.

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @OKnox @emptywheel @Ali_Gharib You three are my favorite people. Okay, that big fella @dcbigjohn is okay too. Keep doing that voodoo you do.
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emptywheel RT @nathanLfuller: @MarkMazzettiNYT Mark, can you explain why "signed a classified order" was changed to "decided"? http://t.co/0fqMUtD0zV
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emptywheel RT @FrankPasquale: Disaster as smart strategy: 5 "years after the financial crash, biggest banks are 37% larger than they were before” http…
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bmaz RT @ScottGreenfield: Journalists: A person's prior crim history is a smear unless it's relevant. #AkaiGurley did nothing to deserve to die.…
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bmaz RT @ScottGreenfield: NYPD smears #AkaiGurley "Gurley has 24 prior arrests on his record, police said." As if this makes it okay. http://t.c…
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bmaz @gracels @jacklgoldsmith Life is fine here, it is not...mostly, and for most people...the hell portrayed despite some of our elected idiots.
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bmaz @juliebosman @mattdpearce Or maybe not per CNN, am a little behind in my timeline reading. Still would not be shocked if done already.
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bmaz .@juliebosman @mattdpearce Do you think the #Ferguson GJ is not done? I bet they are, just delayed announcement.
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emptywheel @benjaminwittes VERY hard to support claim he had no desire to suppress when he made very historic efforts to suppress that. @dametzger
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bmaz @alexiszotos YESS!!! But gotta work harder, Bruins looking tough so far.
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emptywheel @benjaminwittes Any thoughts on why Obama's WH suppressed a short phrase referencing the Finding "authorizing" torture? @dametzger
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bmaz @gracels @jacklgoldsmith It is not just here, most counties in the state do the same. I bet this is not the only GOP state where that's case
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