Update: January 27, 2017
This story has been updated with a comment from Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., has angrily responded to treasury secretary nominee Steven Mnuchin’s false responses to questions submitted for the record to the Senate Finance Committee, stating that Mnuchin’s “answers to basic questions are at war with facts.” The Intercept called attention to those responses on Wednesday.
Casey had asked Mnuchin if OneWest Bank, which Mnuchin led from 2009 to 2015, engaged in “robo-signing” — a process by which employees rapidly signed off on affidavits and other documents in foreclosure cases without proper reviews, creating false evidence submitted to courtrooms and county offices.
Mnuchin claimed that OneWest did not robo-sign documents, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, including an admission of guilt from a OneWest employee in a 2009 deposition.
“This seems to be part of a pattern with Mr. Mnuchin,” Casey said in a statement emailed to The Intercept.
The senator referred to a question he asked during Mnuchin’s confirmation hearing, where the nominee stated that OneWest engaged in 100,000 home loan modifications. However, this number, taken from a 2013 Treasury Department report, refers only to “trial plan offers extended” under the Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP. “The true number wasn’t even close to that,” Casey said correctly; as of the 2013 report, only about 36,000 of those modifications were even active, and that doesn’t count loans that later re-defaulted.
“Now,” Casey wrote, “Mr. Mnuchin denies the plain evidence that his financial institution engaged in robo-signing.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., also slammed Mnuchin for lying. “Mnuchin ran a bank that was notorious for aggressively foreclosing on homeowners, and now he’s lying about his bank’s dismal track record in his official responses to the Finance Committee,” she said in a statement to The Intercept. “Working families simply cannot trust him to be the country’s top economic official.”
Casey re-submitted that question for the record on Wednesday, along with several others “which did not receive accurate or adequate responses.”
The amended question, provided to The Intercept, refers to the 2011 Reuters investigation, which found that OneWest and other banks “have filed foreclosure documents of questionable validity.” Casey also cited the 2011 consent order signed by OneWest, where government regulators found “critical weaknesses in governance, documentation and oversight” that resulted in “violations of applicable federal and state law and requirements.” That consent order also documented findings of robo-signing at OneWest, which the bank did not admit or deny.
In his initial response to Casey, Mnuchin also said that he was “proud of our institution’s extremely low error rate.” Casey took issue with this in his amended question. “OneWest had a 6 percent error rate for mortgages to members of the military protected by the Servicemember Civil Relief Act,” Casey wrote, referring to the practice of charging inflated interest rates to — and seeking foreclosure on — active-duty servicemembers while they were stationed overseas.
Overall, Casey continued, “These and other errors affected more than 5.6 percent of all borrowers, 10,700 homeowners. Do you believe an error rate of 6% is an appropriate level when someone’s home is in the balance?”
Casey demanded that Mnuchin submit new answers to his questions. “The treasury secretary must have a basic level of credibility, yet his answers put that into question,” he said.
It’s unclear whether Mnuchin’s practice of lying and stretching the truth will sway any other senators to turn against his confirmation as treasury secretary — particularly the Republicans who hold his fate in their hands. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who asked tough questions about his state’s housing crisis that Mnuchin could not answer in the hearings, has not announced how he would vote.
If Heller voted against Mnuchin in the Finance Committee and all Democrats joined him, the committee vote would result in a 13-13 tie. However, in that case the Finance Committee could still report his nomination to the floor without a recommendation.
No vote has been scheduled on Mnuchin in the Finance Committee.