Ousted Brookings economist lashes back at Warren
A Brookings Institution economist forced this week to resign from the left-leaning think take amid questions raised by Sen. Elizabeth Warren is lashing back, comparing the liberal lawmaker’s inquiry to tactics one might expect from Donald Trump.
Robert Litan, now a former nonresident senior economics fellow at Brookings, resigned on Tuesday after Warren (D-Mass.) suggested he was peddling an industry-backed study critical of the administration’s proposed regulations for financial advisers.
“Do I feel bullied? I think Senator Warren’s intent was to shoot the messenger rather to directly address the message,” Litan said in an interview. “I was the messenger. She launched an indirect attack on me which in my opinion was baseless. I wrote a report that I fully stand behind and I did nothing wrong.”
Litan said that Warren is representative of “a view in this country that’s always looking for a scapegoat, similar to Donald Trump.”
“I’ve had a 40-plus year off-and-on affiliation with Brookings. I stand by what I’ve written. I have a high degree of professional integrity. I think that Sen. Warren has tried to damage my credibility and I hope it doesn’t work,” he said.
In a statement Wednesday, Warren spokeswoman Lacey Rose characterized Litan’s research as “phony.”
“Big oil companies shouldn’t be able to peddle phony research on climate change, and the financial industry shouldn’t be able to support phony economics hiding behind a think tank,” Rose said in a statement.
Rose reiterated Warren’s assertion that Litan was using Brookings to promote the industry-funded study, pointing to his submitted Congressional testimony.
“People expect think tanks to be independent in the research they produce, and the fact that more and more of their work is funded by wealthy corporate interests — often in secret — further tilts the playing field for those with money and power,” Rose said.
Warren sent a letter to Brookings on Tuesday to Brookings President Strobe Talbott saying that she was “concerned about financial conflicts of interest in a recent study authored by [Litan].”
Most congressional Republicans and roughly 100 Democrats oppose the so-called fiduciary rule, which is championed by Warren and President Obama and strenuously opposed by top industry groups in Washington.
This past summer, Litan and Hal Singer, a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, published a study that was commissioned by the business community.
The study is marketed as conducted by Economists, Inc., with Brookings mentioned only in a footnote referencing Litan’s background. Litan made no mention of Brookings during his oral testimony when he testified before the Senate about the study earlier this year.
In his submitted testimony, Litan only referenced Brookings as one of his titles and he made clear that the study “was supported by the Capital Group, one of the largest mutual fund asset managers in the United States.”
Litan said that Brookings officials changed their policy within the past year, forbidding Brookings nonresident fellows from mentioning their titles when promoting their work outside of the think tank.
He said that the issue was brought to his attention after the hearing but that it wasn’t until Warren’s letter this week that “the tone of our conversations changed completely.”
“What she did was make a mountain out of a molehill,” Litan said. “She mischaracterized my position and gave the false impression that the Capitol Group dictated the content of the report. That’s not true. She gave the wrong impression about what happened.”
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