Warren showed softer side to Wall Street behind the scenes as Obama aide

Elizabeth Warren built her brand on blunt criticism of the financial sector but adopted a softer tone behind the scenes as she worked to set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), emails obtained by The Hill show.

Warren, who is now running for the Senate against incumbent Scott Brown (R-Mass.), is known as fierce consumer advocate who pulls no punches with the titans of Wall Street.  

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But internal communications from the early months of the CFPB show a different side of Warren. At the time, she was serving as a special adviser to President Obama and eager to solicit input and guidance from industry leaders about the new agency that she was creating from scratch.

The emails, which span from September 2010 to August 2011, were acquired by The Hill through a Freedom of Information Act request. They show Warren offering an olive branch to financial executives who were broadly skeptical of the CFPB and fought against its inclusion in the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.

In October 2010, just a few days after Obama tapped Warren to build the CFPB, Tim Ryan, president and chief executive officer of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, suggested a meeting to Warren following a phone conversation

“Although our business is in the domain of the SEC and CFTC, your new agency’s activities will impact the markets and certainly our members,” Ryan wrote in an email dated Oct. 1. “Therefore, getting it right the first time will make a big difference.”

“We have the same goal: getting it right the first time,” Warren responded less than 10 minutes later.

Roughly four months before the CFPB officially gained regulatory power, Warren and others met with Richard Davis, the president and CEO of US Bancorp, about mortgage servicing.

“You all gave us a great deal to think about, and we are all appreciative,” Warren wrote afterward in a March 2011 message. “I value your help — and your friendship — more than you know.”

Warren left the CFPB in July 2011 after the president nominated Richard Cordray, one of her top deputies, to serve as the agency’s first director. Obama recess-appointed Cordray to the position after GOP senators blocked his nomination.

The CFPB declined to comment for this story, and Warren’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Warren’s efforts to win over wary bankers won at least a few converts. Roger Beverage, president and CEO of the Oklahoma Bankers Association, made a dramatic about-face on Warren last year. He went from referring to her as the “Antichrist” to pleading with President Obama to recess-appoint her as the bureau’s first director.

Beverage told The Hill he was won over in his personal interactions with Warren after hearing horror stories about her from others in the financial industry. 

“When I was talking to Elizabeth, I had a sense that I was the only person in the world right then,” he said. “She’s always been my hero, or has been since I met her.”

Industries and regulators typically try to establish working relationships, and financial leaders expressed their share of friendly sentiments to Warren in emails. 

Kenneth Chenault, chairman and CEO of American Express, told Warren in January 2011 the company was “pleased with the constructive engagement we’ve had with your team as you work to get the CFPB up and running.” The two had several meetings and phone calls after the CFPB began publishing Warren’s public schedule in September 2010.

But Warren’s quiet charm offensive with the financial industry is a stark contrast to the battle that has been waged in public.

The financial industry remains fiercely critical of the CFPB and is pushing for a new leadership structure at the bureau to limit the director’s power.

Warren, meanwhile, has made harsh rhetoric against the financial sector one of the central planks of her Senate campaign.

“Wall Street CEOs, the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs, still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them,” she said in her speech at the Democratic National Convention this August. “Does anyone here have a problem with that?”

Not all of Warren’s interactions at the CFPB were with financial executives. While she was working to win over skeptical banks, she was not forgetting her backers on the consumer end.

“I know that this agency will succeed because it has many, many good friends,” she wrote in an October 2010 exchange with Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist and a board member of the Consumers Union (Newmark is also a contributor to The Hill’s Pundits Blog).

Newmark, in turn, promised his full-fledged support.

“I’m at your disposal to make this stuff real,” he wrote.

The emails paint a portrait of the growing pains the agency experienced when it was still hiring employees and finding its footing. In a November 2010 email, Warren had a key question for some of her advisers.

“Do you know my phone number at CFPB? I need to send it to someone,” she wrote.

In a January 2011 exchange, Warren describes needing to track down her government ID, which she lent to another official, before a meeting with Treasury Department officials, including Secretary Timothy Geithner.

Many of the emails describe a series of interviews with potential CFPB officials as the bureau rushed to staff up in the early months, with Warren putting her foot on the gas.

“How soon can we get him on board? I want him,” she wrote of David Silberman, who now serves as the bureau’s associate director for research, markets and regulations.

The emails also show a grueling work schedule. Time stamps on the emails show exchanges with top officials going on until late in the evening and early morning. In March 2011, Warren asked Daniel Geldon, a top adviser now working for her campaign, whether she could take Saturday off, assuring him she’d be back at it Sunday.

Two months into her stint at the agency, Warren already was joking she had lost control of her own schedule when passing a meeting request from The New York Times off to Geldon.

“I’ve sent this to Dan Geldon, who now owns the schedule (I’m a mere pawn!),” she joked.

After passing on another meeting request from an attorney in December, Warren described her packed agenda.

“There are so many things I’d like to do — including seeing you — but time is just crazy any more,” she wrote.

As the months passed and the bureau grew, Warren’s obligations increased, as she held meetings with industry leaders, lawmakers, consumer advocates and the media. Eventually, the bureau took on an official scheduler, Alyssa Martin. Bureau officials joked via email that she was the real power behind the agency, passing around a story about Warren’s packed calendar.

“It’s only a matter of time before the media finally figures out who runs this place: Alyssa,” wrote Peter Jackson, the CFPB’s assistant director for consumer engagement, in a March 2011 email.

“The secret is out!” Warren responded.