Conrad, Issa spar over Countrywide probe

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) lashed out at Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) for his handling of an investigation into Countrywide’s lending practices in a letter sent earlier this week.

“It is unfortunate that you chose to damage my good name in your report without giving me the opportunity to provide my side of the story,” Conrad said in a letter sent Monday. “But that damage has been done. I now have the opportunity to present my case before the Senate Ethics Committee, a fundamental right you denied me.

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“Shame on you for abusing your power,” he added in closing.

At the beginning of the letter, Conrad said the case involving his Countrywide mortgages was under consideration by the Ethics Committee, what he called the “appropriate forum to resolve this matter.”

“There, Republicans and Democrats together will render a judgment,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, your proceeding was totally one-sided and unfair.”

Conrad was responding to a letter Issa sent him the same day responding to public comments the senator had made criticizing Issa’s probe and complaining that he wasn’t given a chance to share his side of the story with Republican investigators on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

In his letter, Issa told Conrad he was not the target of the investigation and thanked him for his willingness to share his side of the story with the Oversight panel.

“I appreciate your willingness to share your knowledge of Countrywide’s VIP program with the Committee,” Issa wrote. “A discussion about your experience with Countrywide VIP loan unit will provide valuable insights about the function, scope and success of the program in question. We do want to hear your side of the story.”

Issa then provided the committee’s phone number so the senators could “set up a mutually convenient time to be interviewed.”

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) did not respond to a similar letter from Issa, written in response to Dodd's criticism of the GOP investigation.

The Senate Ethics Committee is investigating Conrad's and Dodd’s participation in Countrywide’s VIP program that offered sweetheart mortgage lending deals to the two senators and several other prominent public officials. Both lawmakers have denied wrongdoing.

Dodd spokesman Bryan DeAngelis said his boss is cooperating with the Senate Ethics Committee review.

"This matter belongs with the bipartisan Senate Ethics Committee, not in the hands of one Republican member of the House and his partisan staff," he said.

Republicans on the House Oversight panel, led by Issa, have spent a year probing Countrywide’s activities, including the now-infamous VIP program, also known as F.O.A. or “Friends of Angelo” after then-CEO Angelo Mozilo.

GOP investigators on the panel released a report on Countrywide’s VIP program in March that focused in part on Conrad’s and Dodd’s participation in the VIP program, along with other public officials’ involvement. Issa has been calling on the committee’s chairman, Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), to open a full committee investigation that would have the power to subpoena documents and testimony from Bank of America, which now owns Countrywide.

Towns has refused to do so, saying that he doesn’t want to compromise any Justice Department investigation into Countrywide’s lending practices.