Written by Tom Fitton
JW Sues Fed for Records Detailing U.S. Taxpayer Bailout of European Banks
Why on Earth is our government sending billions upon billions of dollars overseas to bail out European banks?
That question is at the center of a new Judicial Watch investigation as we continue our effort to force the Obama administration to come clean on all aspects of the ongoing bailouts – which began five years ago and, despite what some politicians may tell you, never really ended.
On Tuesday we sued the Board of Governors for the Federal Reserve System and the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), a committee within the Federal Reserve, for records detailing the Fed’s December 2011 taxpayer-funded bailouts of European Banks.
But wait a moment…
Didn’t Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke say in a December 14, 2011, meeting with Senate Republicans that he lacked the authority to use taxpayer dollars to bail out troubled European banks? Yes, he reportedly did just that.
However, a “currency swap” program extended by the Fed on November 30, 2011, led to nearly $95 billion in loans to the European Central Bank in December 2011 alone.
Let’s take a look at how this “swap” works.
Under what is known as a “temporary U.S. dollar liquidity swap arrangement,” the Fed lends U.S. dollars to foreign central banks which then auction these dollars off to their local banks. The Fed’s stated intent for initiating the program was to ease lending for European banks during the financial crisis.
The Fed initiated the program in December 2007 and allowed it to expire in February 2010. In May 2010, the Fed rebooted the program and on November 30, 2011, extended it through February 1, 2013. This extension prompted a sharp increase from $400 million to $95 billion in loans in December 2011.
How is this different from any other run-of-the-mill bailout? It isn’t. And that’s why we want to uncover as many details as possible about why these swaps are taking place and under what circumstances.
On January 3, 2012, we submitted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests seeking communications between the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, the FOMC, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the European Central Bank related to the November 30, 2011, currency swap extension. We also want access to records describing the justification for extending the currency swap program, as well as individual details regarding each swap transaction.
Moreover, given that little information is available to the public regarding the identities of the recipients of currency swap funds, Judicial Watch also seeks, “any and all records identifying, describing, or setting forth the identity of any bank or financial institution and the collateral offered by the bank or financial institution,” between December 5, 2011, through December 31, 2011.
Here’s why this last request is important, per Bloomberg:
For all the transparency forced on the Federal Reserve by Congress and the courts, one of the central bank’s emergency-lending programs remains so secretive that names of borrowers may be hidden from the Fed itself.
As part of a currency-swap plan active from 2007 to 2010 and revived to fight the European debt crisis, the Fed lends dollars to other central banks, which auction them to local commercial banks…While the transactions with other central banks are all disclosed, the Fed doesn’t track where the dollars ultimately end up, and European officials don’t share borrowers’ identities outside the continent.
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York reports that, as of March 31, the European Central Bank had $33 billion in outstanding swaps. The secrecy of these arrangements has been criticized by Gerald O’Driscoll, a former Vice President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, as “bailing out European banks and, indirectly, spendthrift European governments. It is difficult to count the number of things wrong with this arrangement.”
Regarding our basic FOIA request, the Federal Reserve Board of Governors and the FOMC can’t say it was “lost in the mail.” The stonewalling is intentional. Both entities acknowledged receipt of our records request on January 3, 2012, and were required by law to respond by February 1, 2012. However, as of the date of Judicial Watch’s lawsuit, neither defendant has submitted a lawful response to Judicial Watch’s original FOIA request.
Chairman Bernanke can dress it up in whatever language he chooses, but these “currency swaps” are nothing more than massive bailouts of European banks. That we have to sue to get basic information about this massive bailout speaks volumes about the dubious nature of this under-the-radar program.
But this secrecy is not altogether surprising considering that we have had to sue the “super transparent” Obama administration for records related to the bailout/government takeover of U.S. companies. At this point, with trillions of dollars now committed to this Big Government takeover of the private sector, we still do not have any answers regarding the legal justification used to authorize the bailouts.
No Congress voted to bail out Europe. And no president, let alone this one, signed a law authorizing such a bailout. From the beginning, the bailouts have been marked by contempt for the rule of law. And, now, with a massive secret bailout of “Europe” underway, there seems to be no controlling legal authority for our nation’s central bank and the politicians who refuse to seriously police the Fed’s activities. Judicial Watch aims to change that and bring sunlight and the rule of law to this out-of-control government operation.
Judicial Watch knows better than anyone the frustration of trying to get documents from the Obama administration pertaining to a wide range of scandals, from Fast and Furious to the bailouts (see above). This week, however, we received records that prove our frustrations are shared by members of the press and members of Congress.
(Incidentally, rampant Obama secrecy is one reason why major news outlets such as the Washington Post and NPR have joined our legal campaign to obtain Obama White House visitor logs.)
On Wednesday we obtained records from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) regarding President Obama’s illegal alien uncle, Onyango Obama, who was arrested in August 2011 on drunken driving charges in Framingham, Massachusetts.
The records include internal ICE correspondence showing agency officials withholding information on Onyango’s release from the press, a decision characterized by one Boston Globe reporter as “preposterous.” (The documents also suggest ICE may have withheld records from Congress as well.)
JW obtained these records via our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)lawsuit filed on April 10, 2012, but we first asked for these records all the way back in September 2011. Among the highlights:
“I think it is preposterous that I will have to write in the Boston Globe tomorrow that the federal agency in charge of detaining immigrants refuses to say whether he is in custody or not – even as its own website clearly says he is not.”
Ms. Rahilly then explained why the agency refuses to confirm reports of Onyango’s release: “We don’t consider the fact that a person’s information may be able to be found by attorneys, families and friends of the individual…to mean that the information is de facto public for purposes of media inquiries or under FOIA.” Rahilly wrote. “Given that there appears to have been a leak of this person’s information, and the low public interest in the details requested by the Globe, [Chief Privacy Officer/Chief FOIA Officer] Mary Ellen [Callahan] and I did not find that the public interest outweighed the privacy interest in this instance.”
The records also include an internal ICE email showing the agency’s unwillingness to provide information regarding the reported release to Rep. Lamar Smith’s office. Check out the blanket response to Rep. Smith’s request for information, per one email: “ICE does not comment on specific cases.”
ICE may not want to comment on Onyango, for obvious reasons, but there is no doubt about his guilt or his status as an unlawfully present alien.
On March 27, 2012, Onyango Obama admitted to the Framingham District Court that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him. ICE officials, meanwhile, indicated the agency will continue deportation proceedings against Obama: “Now that (Mr. Obama’s) criminal case has completed, ICE has communicated, in accordance with standard procedure, with the attorney of record regarding his removal pursuant to a previous final order by an immigration judge,” agency spokesman Brian Hale said, per the Boston Herald. (Onyango was first ordered out of the country in 1989.)
Obama, who, upon his arrest, said his one phone call would be to the White House, has indicated he will fight ICE’s efforts to deport him in a high profile proceeding the Boston Herald conjectured could “drag on for years.” While he fights deportation, Obama will be allowed to drive a car. He was supposed to lose his license for 45 days, but received a “hardship license,” from the Massachusetts’s Department of Motor Vehicles so that he could drive back and forth to his job at a liquor store.
The documents show that the case was tracked by the highest levels at ICE, but key names and analysis/orders seem to be blacked out. Did Obama’s uncle receive a favor from the Obama appointee-controlled ICE? One of the documents details the background talking points evidently sent to John Morton, Obama’s amnesty point man who is director of ICE:
Mr. Onyango is subject to a final order of deportation. ICE had granted him a stay of deportation effective until June 5, 2012.
The stay was granted to allow him to attend pending criminal proceedings and to seek reopening of his deportation proceedings, which concluded before the Board of Immigration Appeals on January 29, 1992.
On March 27, 2012, the Framingham Massachusetts District Court entered Its judgment in Mr. Onyango’s criminal case. Since his criminal case has concluded and his attorney appears not to have filed a motion to reopen, ICE is requiring Mr. Onyango to report to our Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations in Burlington, MA on April 12,2012 at 10:30 a.m. with his attorney of record.
At that appointment, arrangements, including medical accommodations, will be discussed to effectuate his departure from the United States on an appropriate date.
Absent a change in circumstances, ICE does not intend to deport him at the time of his April 12 appointment.
We now know that the Obama administration decided not to deport Obama’s uncle despite his being a criminal and being on the lam for at least 12 years!
Here’s a statement I offered to the press in our statement releasing the records: “One thing is clear from these records, Immigration and Customs Enforcement attempted to stonewall the release of information about President Obama’s illegal alien uncle. It is precisely because of Onyango’s family relationship to President Obama that ICE should have been more transparent, not less.”
Per usual, the Obama administration is placing a higher value on protecting the image of President Obama than the requirements of FOIA law. And we know now the reason for the stonewall – to cover up the favor his appointees did for his illegal alien uncle.
A new report from Rep. Darrell Issa’s House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform entitled “How Countrywide Used its VIP Program to Influence Washington Policymakers” confirms what Judicial Watch has been arguing for several years – that former Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) and current Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) must have known they were receiving special treatment from Countrywide Financial in the form of sweetheart mortgage deals.
The report also “outs” other members of Congress who received special treatment from the mortgage lending giant in a scandal that emerged back in 2008.
“The Committee’s investigation found Countrywide lobbyists and CEO Angelo Mozilo used discounted loans as a tool to ingratiate itself with policymakers in an effort to benefit the company’s business interests,” said Rep. Issa in announcing the report, which documented 29 VIP loans to 12 members of Congress and congressional staff.
The program at issue was known as “Friends of Angelo,” named after the Countrywide’s chief executive at the time, Angelo Mozilo, who was ultimately charged with civil fraud and illegal insider trading. Senators Dodd and Conrad were perhaps the most visible recipients of these favorable loans. Dodd used two “VIP” mortgage loans in 2003 to refinance residences in Connecticut and Washington, DC, while Conrad took two loans the following year to refinance his beach house in Delaware and an apartment building in North Dakota (saving more than $20,000 in the process, so says the report).
The Washington Examiner’s Executive Editor Mark Tapscott summarizes the report’s findings on Dodd:
Sen. Chris Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat who chaired the powerful Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, initially claimed not to know about his preferential treatment. He was cleared by the Senate Select Committee on Ethics in August 2009, but he then retired in 2010 after the public learned how close a friend of Angelo he had been. Dodd received waivers of all fees on two mortgages whose combined worth was nearly $800,000.
The Issa panel says Dodd must have known more than he has let on so far, because he also “referred Mary Jane Collipriest, communications director for Senator Robert Bennett, to the VIP unit when she refinanced her mortgage in 2002. Countrywide waived processing and junk fees for Collipriest.” (“Junk fees” is a trade term for assorted upfront lender charges.)
The report concludes that there was a very simple motivation behind the program, to build “good will” with power brokers on Capitol Hill, and cast a “wide net of influence” in order to gain favorable treatment in return from Congress. And it worked.
For example, the report notes that “on June 17, 2008, the same day he acknowledged for the first time that he was a Countrywide VIP customer, Dodd announced that he was bringing to the Senate floor a housing bailout to help Countrywide and other struggling subprime lenders.”
It is obvious to any impartial observer that this was a quid pro quo. Dodd got a favorable loan and then proposed a Countrywide bailout.
However, as noted by Politico, Rep. Issa’s report concludes that the “Friends of Angelo” was far more damaging than a waste of taxpayer funds in the form of a quid pro quo mortgage industry bailout. The program also helped to tip the first domino in the financial crisis by playing a “critical part” in blocking efforts to reform the mortgage lending industry, including the government sponsored enterprises (GSEs) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. (Countrywide also gave sweetheart deals to top officials at those GSEs, who were the biggest buyers of Countrywide’s dubious mortgage loan products.)
Rep. Issa’s committee should be commended for thoroughly investigating this massive influence peddling scandal, but it should not have been necessary.
In 2009, the Senate Ethics Committee had all of the evidence it needed to hold Dodd, Conrad, and other recipients of special treatment from Countrywide accountable. (The House Ethics Committee also “looked into it,” but has failed to take any action.) Instead, the Senate Ethics Committee whitewashed the two Senators’ Countrywide problems, proving yet again that members of Congress cannot be trusted to police themselves.
After all, an official who worked in the Countrywide program testified before Congress that Dodd and Conrad absolutely knew they were receiving special VIP treatment! To take the word of their colleagues, Dodd and Conrad, who had everything to gain by lying about the loans and ignoring the under-oath testimony from the Countrywide official who administered the program, is typical of corrupt Washington “investigations.”
While Dodd and Conrad are the “faces” of the Countrywide scandal, they were not alone in taking advantage of sweetheart mortgages. The report implicates a number of other members of Congress who benefitted from the Countrywide program, including Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-NY), Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) and Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA.). (Sessions, at least, told Countrywide that he didn’t want any special favors.) Key congressional staff with significant public policy influence were also invited to Mozilo’s inner circle of “friends.”
Of course, all of these individuals claim that they did not know that they were part of any special program, despite the fact that correspondence uncovered by Rep. Issa’s committee has the words “VIP TEAM” emblazoned at the top of the letter.
(Evidently Angelo’s friends were not limited to Congress. Former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros and HHS Secretary Donna Shalala also reportedly received sweetheart mortgages.)
The Countrywide scandal is a lesson for anyone who tries to downplay the significance of crony capitalism, which moves way beyond perks and favors for greedy politicians. These corrupt arrangements influence policies that impact all Americans, and never for the better. Not to mention the fact that these influence peddling scams violate the law and House and Senate ethics rules.
It should go without saying that every “Friend of Angelo” in a position of influence in Congress and in government should be held accountable. It won’t hurt for you call or contact the House Ethics Committee to encourage it to do its job. You can call the Ethics Committee at 202-225-7103.
By the way, if you want to know more about this scandal, and many, many others, please click here to get your advance copy of my upcoming book, The Corruption Chronicles, Obama’s Big Secrecy, Big Corruption and Big Government, published by Simon and Schuster. The book hits stores and online book outlets on July 24, but you can preorder your copy now by clicking here.
Until next week…
Judicial Watch is a non-partisan, educational foundation organized under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue code. Judicial Watch is dedicated to fighting government and judicial corruption and promoting a return to ethics and morality in our nation’s public life.