WASHINGTON — A top Obama administration official on Thursday questioned the scope of the state and federal investigations into alleged mortgage abuses and “illegal” foreclosures perpetrated by the nation’s largest mortgage companies, marking the first time a senior White House official publicly broke ranks with the administration over the issue and raising fresh questions about the wisdom of the government’s rush to settle with the firms.
Elizabeth Warren, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, told a congressional panel that government agencies may not have sufficiently investigated claims that borrowers’ homes were illegally seized by banks such as JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Ally Financial.
“I think there’s a real question about whether there’s been adequate investigation,” said Warren, the temporary custodian of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, a new federal agency charged with protecting borrowers from abusive lenders. Her statement came in response to questions from Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), a former federal prosecutor who asked Warren why her agency needed to oversee such abuses when the U.S. Department of Justice is already probing such matters.
Warren, a passionate consumer advocate, has long questioned whether the state and federal probes have been comprehensive, according to people familiar with her views. The investigations were launched last year amid news reports that the lenders were at times improperly repossessing borrowers’ homes and breaking state laws and federal rules in the process.
But she had not publicly shared that view, which is widelyspread among individuals with direct knowledge of the probes, until the Thursday appearance before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
She’s the first senior administration official to publicly question the thoroughness of the investigations led by the Justice Department, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Treasury Department, Federal Trade Commission, all 50 state attorneys general and more than 30 state bank regulators.