With the opening of the 111th Congress yesterday, all of Washington is tingling with the allure of a fresh start. Not so fast. We've got some leftover business from the 110th Congress -- namely, Chris Dodd's July 2008 promise to release the details of his sweetheart loans from Countrywide Financial.
The Connecticut Senator got favored treatment from the subprime mortgage purveyor, even as he was a power broker on the Banking Committee that regulates the industry. When the news broke, the Senator first denied that he sought or expected preferential treatment. He later admitted that he knew he was considered a VIP at the firm but claimed he thought it was "more of a courtesy." He also promised the Connecticut press that he'd come clean with the documents and details of the loans. But six months later -- nada, zip, nothing.
The rest of the press corps may have moved on, but we'd still like to know. All the more so because former Countrywide Financial loan officer Robert Feinberg told us last fall that Mr. Dodd knowingly saved thousands of dollars on his refinancing of two properties in 2003 as part of a special program for the influential. Mr. Feinberg also reported that he has internal company documents that prove Mr. Dodd knew he was getting preferential treatment as a friend of Angelo Mozilo, Countrywide's then-CEO, and Mr. Feinberg has offered to provide those documents to investigators.
Just before Mr. Dodd made his promise, Bank of America closed its acquisition of Countrywide and Mr. Dodd has continued to oversee BofA and the rest of the mortgage industry as Chairman of Senate Banking. He will now play a lead role in drafting legislation affecting the very business that gave him preferential treatment, yet he still refuses to release the mortgage documents that would illuminate this treatment. As the Senate Ethics Committee examines this case, Mr. Dodd's office reports that he is cooperating with the investigation and that he still intends to make good on his six-month-old pledge. But nothing in the Senate ethics process prevents Mr. Dodd from coming clean with the public whenever he wishes.
We suspect there's at least one habit of the 110th Congress that won't change in the 111th: The Members think they can get away with anything -- and usually do.
Please add your comments to the Opinion Journal forum.Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A12