If the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have any documents related to the "pernicious, discriminatory practices" conducted while Donald Trump's pick for treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, was at the helm of the notorious OneWest bank, they must release them immediately.
So urged Rep. Maxine Waters (D. Calif.), the ranking member on the House Financial Services Committee, in a letter (pdf) issued Friday, the same day she urged her colleagues in the U.S. Senate to reject Mnuchin's nomination, saying "it shocks the conscience" that Trump "would give the keys to the Treasury to a man whose bank engaged in massive fraud and profited off the backs of Americans that his company threw out on the street."
HUD and the DOJ, she wrote, must "do everything in [their] power to ensure that justice is served for those homeowners that fell victim to the illegal activities of OneWest."
That bank, "which Mnuchin and a group of investors bought from the carcass of IndyMac in 2009 for pennies on the dollar before flipping it for millions in 2015, has been charitably referred to as a 'foreclosure machine,'" as Bess Levin writes at Vanity Fair. As journalist David Dayen has pointed out,
Even among the many bad actors in the national foreclosure crisis, OneWest stood out. It routinely jumped to foreclosure rather than pursue options to keep borrowers in their homes; used fabricated and "robo-signed" documents to secure the evictions; and had a particular talent for dispossessing the homes of senior citizens and people of color.
Criticism over his role at the bank has dogged Mnuchin since his nomination, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) declaring him "the Forrest Gump of the financial crisis—he managed to participate in all the worst practices on Wall Street." Her colleague Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) last month wrote to the "foreclosure king," demanding his make clear how his Wall Street background as well as his time at OneWest will influence his views and actions. And just last week, in revelations that further "paint a damning picture of Mnuchin's time as CEO" of OneWest, The Intercept dug up a 2013 document that pointed to the bank's having hamstrung an investigation into its practices, engaged in "widespread misconduct," and displayed a "blatant disregard for the law."
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Waters' letter points to such practices, as well as to a complaint filed with HUD in November by two nonprofits—the California Reinvestment Coalition (CRC) and Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California—calling for an investigation into what they charge are ongoing violations of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) by OneWest.
"I have grave concerns about the ability of the incoming administration to take unbiased action towards one of its own cabinet members, and I urge you to do everything in your power to ensure that justice is served for those homeowners that fell victim to the illegal activities of OneWest," she wrote.
She added: "Mr. Mnuchin profited from his role at Goldman Sachs, helping to push the kinds of risky mortgage products that ultimately crashed the housing market and our economy. He then went on to profit from his role at OneWest, pushing families out of their homes without proper due process despite the fact that they were struggling as a direct result of the crisis and the risky mortgage products that he himself had helped bring about. He should not now be allowed off the hook only because he is poised to be in a position wherein a sympathetic new administration fails to properly investigate his actions. The homeowners that were unfairly pushed out of their homes deserve better than that, and I urge you to fight for them until your very last day in office."
CRC also last week said The Intercept findings should spark the Senate Finance Committee to carry out an investigation into Mnuchin and demand the previously obstructed documents.
Paulina Gonzalez, executive director of CRC, stated: "Voting on Mr. Mnuchin before a full airing of the facts would send a troubling message to taxpayers who bailed out the banks, to families who may have been harmed by these practices, and is a dangerous signal to other bank executives that flagrant violations of state laws are not only to be expected, but could earn you a cabinet level position."
A confirmation hearing for Mnuchin has not yet been scheduled.