GOP to press for Countrywide probe

Republicans on the House Oversight Committee plan to continue to push for an investigation into a high-profile VIP program at mortgage lender Countrywide Financial that benefited several government officials, including two Democratic senators.

Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, decided this week against opening an investigation into the program that offered sweetened mortgage terms to VIPs under a program called “Friends of Angelo,” named after former Countrywide head Angelo Mozilo.

Democrat Sens. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Kent Conrad (N.D.) have repeatedly denied any knowledge of receiving preferential treatment. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), ranking member on the Oversight panel, has strongly sought an investigation, saying the program was a broader and deeper effort to gain influence.

“For more than a year, we have been trying to expose the size and scope of the Countrywide VIP program,” Kurt Bardella, a spokesman for Issa. “I don’t know how the Speaker and Democratic leaders will be able to hide from the truth while the proof that can answer our questions is just one subpoena away.”

In deciding against a probe, Towns cited ongoing Senate Ethics Committee and Justice Department investigations into the issue, saying it would not be “appropriate for the committee to interfere with those proceedings.”

By citing an active Justice investigation, Towns followed a pattern set by the House ethics committee. That panel has been criticized for deferring to Justice investigations of sensitive charges related to members of Congress.

Bank of America, which acquired Countrywide in 2008, has indicated that it would turn over documents related to the program, but only under subpoena. Issa cannot issue a subpoena on his own.

“Bank of America would comply with a valid congressional subpoena for information,” said Dan Frahm, spokesman for Bank of America.

Frahm told The Hill that the bank has not received a subpoena from any congressional investigator or government official regarding the Friends of Angelo program.

Susan Crabtree contributed to this story