This story originally appeared at Truthdig. Robert Scheer is the author of The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street (Nation Books).
They will get away with it, at least in this life. “They” are the Wall Street usurers, people of a sort condemned in Scripture, who have brought more misery to this nation than we have known since the Great Depression. “They” will not suffer for their crimes because they have a majority ownership position in our political system. That is the meaning of the banking plea bargain that the Obama administration is pressuring state attorneys general to negotiate with the titans of the financial world.
It is a sellout deal that, in return for a pittance of compensation by banks to ripped-off mortgage holders, would grant the banks blanket immunity from any prosecution. That is intended to short-circuit investigations by a score of aggressive state officials, inquiries that offer the public a last best hope to get to the bottom of the housing scandal that has cost US homeowners $6.6 trillion in home equity in the past five years and left 14.6 million Americans owing more than their homes are worth.
The $20 billion or so that the banks would pony up is chump change to them compared with the trillions that the Fed and other public agencies spent to bail them out. The banks were given direct cash subsidies, virtually zero-interest loans, and the Fed took $2 trillion in bad paper off their hands while the banks exacerbated the banking crisis they had created through additional shady practices, including fraudulent mortgage foreclosures.
Yet the administration has rushed to the aid of the banks once again and is attempting to intimidate the few state attorneys general who have the gumption to protect the public interest they are sworn to serve. As Gretchen Morgenson of the New York Times reported:
“Eric T. Schneiderman, the attorney general of New York, has come under increasing pressure from the Obama administration to drop his opposition to a wide-ranging state settlement with banks over dubious foreclosure practices.…
“In recent weeks, Shaun Donovan, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and high-level Justice Department officials have been waging an intensifying campaign to try to persuade the attorney general to support the settlement.”
Donovan has good reason not to want an exploration of the origins of the housing meltdown: He has been a big-time player in the housing racket for decades. Back in the Clinton administration, when government-supported housing became a fig leaf for bundling suspect mortgages into what turned out to be toxic securities, Donovan was a deputy assistant secretary at HUD and acting Federal Housing Administration commissioner. He was up to his eyeballs in this business when the Clinton administration pushed through legislation banning any regulation of the market in derivatives based on home mortgages.
Armed with his insider connections, Donovan then went to work for the Prudential conglomerate (no surprise there), working deals with the same government housing agencies that he had helped run. As the New York Times reported in 2008 after President Barack Obama picked him to be secretary of HUD, “Mr. Donovan was a managing director at Prudential Mortgage Capital Co., in charge of its portfolio of investments in affordable housing loans, including Fannie Mae and the Federal Housing Administration debt.”