Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin doesn’t exactly come across as the guy you’d want in your corner in a playground tussle. In the Trump administration, he’s been more like the kid trying to cop favor with the school bully. That, at least, is the role he seems to have taken in the Trump White House. When he isn’t making the rounds of the Sunday shows to stooge for the president, he regularly plays the willing fall guy for tax policies guaranteed to stoke further inequality in America and for legislation that will remove just about any consumer protections against Wall Street.
Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs partner, arrived in Washington with a distinct reputation. Back in 2009, he had corralled a bundle of rich financiers to take over California’s IndyMac bank, shut down amid the 2008 foreclosure crisis by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Bought for $13.9 billion (but only $1.3 billion in actual cash), Mnuchin turned it into a genuine foreclosure machine, in the process sealing his own fate when it came to his future reputation. At the time, he didn’t appear concerned about public approval. Something far more valuable was at stake: the $200 million that, according to Bloomberg News, he raked in personally, thanks to the deal.
No such luck, of course, for the bank’s ordinary borrowers. During Mnuchin’s reign, IndyMac carried out more than 36,000 foreclosures, tossing former homeowners (including active-duty military servicemen and women) onto the street without hesitation or pity, by any means necessary. According to a memo obtained by investigative reporter David Dayen, OneWest, the new name that Mnuchin and his billionaire posse coined for Indybank, of which Mnuchin was now CEO and chairman, “rushed delinquent homeowners out of their homes by violating notice and waiting period statutes, illegally backdated key documents, and effectively gamed foreclosure auctions.”
Now Mnuchin remains bitter and frustrated that he can’t kick the reputation he got in those days. As he told a House Financial Services Committee Congressional hearing this July, “I take great offense to anybody who calls me the foreclosure king.” Such indignation would ring truer if, in May, one of Mnuchin’s banking units, a company called Financial Freedom, hadn’t agreed to pay a more than $89 million settlement to the government for taking unreasonable advantage of thousands of seniors through reverse mortgages, which convert equity in a home into a loan. (A few months later, in August, the watchdog group Campaign for Accountability called upon the Justice Department to investigate Mnuchin for allegedly making false statements under oath to Congress about his actions at OneWest between 2009 and 2015.)