It posits that a group of Wall Street moguls including Trump Cabinet appointees Mnuchin and Wilbur Ross, as well as White House insiders like Steve Schwarzman and Tom Barrack, took advantage of “a rigged system” to transfer billions of dollars from individual homeowners into their own pockets during the Great Recession.
“Consumers wonder how is it that we all got so far behind” and so many Americans lost their homes in the Great Recession, Glantz — a two-time Peabody Award winning journalist with California-based REVEAL and the Center for Investigative Reporting — said Monday in an interview.
“The answer is all of these officials screwed up and dropped the ball — and hid it. The time period when all this homewrecking occurred was during the Obama presidency, and when AG’s like Kamala Harris were on the job,” he said. “It happened on her watch. And she’s never been really forced to tell the other story — and wrestle with the truth of what happened..”
In California, Mnuchin — now the Treasury secretary — acquired regional banks like OneWest with the federal government’s help; the banks got billions in subsidies as they foreclosed on 35,000 homeowners in the Golden State alone, Glantz reports. Harris did little to stop that bleeding — and later tried to suppress evidence of her inaction, he argues.
“Harris’ deputies recommended that their boss sue the bank,’’ Glantz said, citing the bank’s loss-share agreement with the FDIC, which stated that Mnuchin’s bank could only receive payments from the government if it followed proper foreclosure procedures. “If the state of California found OneWest violated those rules, the payments could stop – saving not only homeowners…but government coffers as well.’’
“[But] despite a strong recommendation from her staff,’’ Harris never legally pursued Mnuchin’s OneWest bank, he says. “As a result, no one at OneWest faced prosecution — and no one got their homes back.”
Ian Sams, spokesman for Harris’ presidential campaign, responded forcefully to the charges in Glantz’s book.
“No attorney general in America got more from the banks for their state’s homeowners than Kamala Harris; she won $20 billion for Californians from the biggest banks,’’ he said in a statement to POLITICO. “She also got another $1 billion from the banks when she pursued a securities fraud case which centered on money defrauded from pension funds. She then passed a pioneering Homeowner’s Bill of Rights and created a Mortgage Fraud Strike Force.”
“There was no question OneWest conducted predatory lending, and Senator Harris believes they should be punished,’’ Sams said. “Unfortunately, the law was squarely on their side and they were shielded from state subpoenas because they’re a federal bank. This shouldn’t be surprising by how much influence the financial industry has wielded in Washington, but Senator Harris has introduced a bill to fix this.”
Earlier this year, Harris told the San Francisco Chronicle that she “didn’t have the legal ability,’’ because “the rules were written in favor of the banks’’ — an argument Glantz reports was disputed in a 25-page memo produced by Harris’ own staff. “Case NOT filed despite strong recommendations,’’ reads a cover sheet atop the memo, Glantz writes.
He said the Mortgage Fraud Strike Force Harris launched does get credit for taking action, but mostly went after “small potatoes” offenders. On bigger fish, however, her staff “did investigate OneWest, and did recommend prosecution — but she did bury their report and declined to launch a prosecution,’’ he said. “That happened.”
Glantz writes in “Homewreckers” that “the only reason we know about California’s investigations into OneWest today is because David Dayen of the news website The Intercept obtained a leaked copy,’’ and published it in January 2017. “By then,’’ Glantz reports, “Harris was no longer California attorney general — she was a U.S. senator.”