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© 2008 – 2013 John T. Burke, Jr.

Instead Of Solving a Problem – Form a Committee

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It’s become a stale joke about the Obama administration.  Every time a demand is made for the White House to take decisive action on an important issue  .  .  .  the President’s solution is always the same:  Form a committee to study the matter.

In my last posting, I discussed the January 20 article written by Scot Paltrow for Reuters, which revealed that Attorney General Eric Hold-harmless and Lanny Breuer, head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, had been partners in the Washington law firm, Covington & Burling.  As Scot Paltrow pointed out, during the years while Holder and Breuer were partners at Covington, the firm’s clients included the four largest U.S. banks – Bank of America, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo & Co.

Less than a week after publication of Paltrow’s report, which raised “conflict of interest” questions concerning Holder’s reluctance to prosecute banks or mortgage servicers for fraudulent foreclosure practices, President Obama delivered his State of the Union address.  With Paltrow’s revelations still fresh in my mind, I was particularly surprised to hear President Obama make the following statement:

And tonight, I am asking my Attorney General to create a special unit of federal prosecutors and leading state attorneys general to expand our investigations into the abusive lending and packaging of risky mortgages that led to the housing crisis.  This new unit will hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners, and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans.

If it weren’t bad enough that critics had already been complaining about the Attorney General’s failure to prosecute mortgage fraud cases, Obama has most recently appointed Holder to supervise “investigations into the abusive lending and packaging of risky mortgages that led to the housing crisis”.  It’s hard to avoid the assumption that those “investigations” will lead to nowhere.  By Wednesday, I found that I was not alone in my cynicism concerning what is now called the Office of Mortgage Origination and Securitization Abuses.

Wednesday morning brought an essay by Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism, in which she expressed dread about the possibility that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman may have been seduced by Team Obama to join the effort exerting pressure on each Attorney General from every state to consent to a settlement of any and all claims against the banksters arising from their fraudulent foreclosure practices.  Each state is being asked to release the banks from criminal and civil liability in return for a share of the $25 billion settlement package.  Ms. Smith compared that initiative with Obama’s most recent announcement about the Office of Mortgage Origination and Securitization Abuses:

So get this:  this is a committee that will “investigate.”    .   .   .  Neil Barofsky, former prosecutor and head of SIGTARP, doesn’t buy the logic of this committee either:

Neil Barofsky @neilbarofsky

If task force created either b/c DOJ hasn’t done an investigation, or b/c 3-yr investigation a failure, how does Holder keep his job?

A lot of soi-disant liberal groups have fallen in line with Obama messaging, which was the plan (I already have the predictable congratulatory Move On e-mail in my inbox). Let’s get real.  The wee problem is that this committee looks like yet another bit of theater for the Administration to pretend, yet again, that it is Doing Something, while scoring a twofer by getting Schneiderman, who has been a pretty effective opponent, hobbled.

If you wanted a real investigation, you get a real independent investigator, with a real budget and staffing, and turn him loose.  We had the FCIC which had a lot of hearings and produced a readable book that said everyone was responsible for the mortgage crisis, which was tantamount to saying no one was responsible.  We even had an eleven-regulator Foreclosure Task Force that looked at 2800 loan files (and a mere 100 foreclosures) and found nothing very much wrong.

Neil Barofsky’s question deserves repetition:  Why does Attorney General Eric Hold-harmless still have his job if – after three years – the Justice Department has taken no action against those responsible for originating and securitizing the risky mortgages which led to the housing crisis?

David Dayen of Firedoglake weighed-in with his own skeptical take on Obama’s purported crakdown on mortgage origination and securitization abuses:

First of all, this becomes part of a three year-old Financial Fraud Task Force which has done approximately nothing on Wall Street accountability outside of a few insider trading arrests.  So that’s the context of this investigative panel, part of the same entity that has spun its wheels.  Second, the panel would only look at origination, where there have been plenty of lawsuits and where the main offenders are all out of business, and securitization, which may aid investors (that includes pension funds, of course) but not necessarily homeowners.     .   .   .

Given the fact that this is an election year, President Obama knows that mere lip service toward a populist cause will not be enough to win back those disgruntled former supporters, who have now learned – the hard way – that talk is cheap.  Obama is now going the extra mile – he’s forming a committee!  Trouble is – those disgruntled former supporters have already learned that committee formation is simply the disingenuous “follow-through” on a false campaign promise.  Nice try, Mr. President!


 

“My Oath Is To The Constitution, Not To The President”

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July 3, 2008

David Iglesias is making the talk show circuit, promoting his recent book: In Justice.  The book provides an insider’s account of the scandal involving the politicization of the Justice Department under the Administration of non-attorneys George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.  As I have said before, these two men have little regard for our Constitution because they know little about it and they have contempt for our courts because they know almost nothing about the law or the concepts of justice and due process.  Bush/Cheney made a point of having culls run Justice:  John Ashcroft, who (surprisingly) to his credit, was not trusted by them to authorize their FISA bypass, so they tried to have him authorize it while he was in the hospital, under sedation.  Once Alberto Gonzalez became Attorney General, we had someone in charge of the Justice Department, who was even more subservient to the whims of non-attorneys Bush and Cheney.  This resulted in what history will view as the most disgraceful abuse of the Justice Department as Soviet-style enforcers of political allegiance to the party-in-charge.  David Iglesias and at least six other important federal prosecutors, who had devoted their careers to fighting organized crime, terrorism and (oops!) corporate fraud, were summarily terminated by Bush-Cheney for failure to align their missions with the political vendettas of this administration.  The title Iglesias chose for his book was an obvious reference to the widespread opinion that the Bush Administration had changed the Justice Department to the Injustice Department.

David Iglesias explained to Tavis Smiley that an underlying theme throughout his book was that as a federal prosecutor, he understood his oath of office as to support the Constitution of the United States, despite the Bush Administration’s mandate that a prosecutor’s highest obligation was to support the President.

This theme is particularly timely in light of the recent dispute arising from the appearance of retired General Wesley Clark on the CBS News program, “Face The Nation” on June 29.  During that conversation, Wesley Clark, in his vanity, forgot that it was actually Barack Obama running as the Democratic Party’s candidate for President, rather than himself.  Clark expressed a rationale that only Commanding Officers, such as himself, had the type of military experience to qualify one for the Presidency.  He tactlessly contrasted this with the experience of John McCain, who was shot down as a fighter pilot and was held for years as a POW in the Hanoi Hilton.  When asked by Dan Abrams on MSNBC’s “The Verdict”, to explain his minimization of McCain’s sacrifice, Clark again reinforced his position that only Commanding Officers, such as himself, had the type of military experience to be qualified for the Presidency.  The McCain camp made the most they could of this denigration of the Republican candidate’s service.  Barack Obama found it necessary to distance himself from Clark’s comments on this subject.

The McCain camp then targeted Virginia Senator Jim Webb, for his remarks to Keith Olbermann on MSNBC’s “Countdown” show of June 30.  During that interview, Webb pointed out that:

We need to make sure that we take politics out of service.  People don’t serve their country for political issues and John McCain is my longtime friend and if there is one area I would ask him to calm down on it is: don’t be standing up and uttering your political views and implying that all the people in the military support them because they don’t, any more than when the Democrats had political issues during the Vietnam war.  Let’s get politics out of the military, take care of our military people and have our political arguments in other areas.

McCain’s claim was that this was another attack on his service in the Vietnam War.  Nevertheless, we can see that Webb was attempting to distinguish a soldier’s obligation to the President (or in this case, a Presidential candidate) from a soldier’s obligation to defend our Constitution.  The oath of enlistment for people serving in the military is as follows:

I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. (So help me God.)

Although military personnel are bound by their oath to follow the orders of the President, in accordance with regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, their primary duty is to support and defend the Constitution.  When McCain takes for granted that those serving in the military will support his entire political agenda, he is mistaken.  Their oath does not require it, nor could he enforce such compliance if elected President.

What is actually going on with all of this is that the Obama camp is out to “level the playing field” with respect to Obama’s lack of military experience.  McCain’s delusion that he can speak for all the troops and that they are aligned with his entire political agenda is the “Achilles heel” where the Democrats are directing their fire to achieve their goal.  “McCain doesn’t speak for all the troops” is the argument that will pay off when the pollsters focus on the Presidential choices of those in uniform.

As an aside, it’s only fitting that at a time so close to the day we celebrate our Independence, we can celebrate the rescue of former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt from the FARC rebels.  My Colombian friends and I thought she had been killed several years ago.  Let’s all make a toast to Ingrid when we think about freedom this year!