Rich Lowry

It's not easy being a U.S. senator. People trick you into taking special favors you didn't even know existed. Shame on these unscrupulous people!

Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd and North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad, both Democrats, fell victim to the machinations of Countrywide Financial, which gave them breaks on mortgages as part of the "Friends of Angelo" program; the "Angelo" in question is Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo.

Most alleged victims of Countrywide were gulled into taking loans with onerous interest rates and excessive fees. But they don't know the agony of life as a U.S. senator, when at any moment a powerful, well-heeled interest might take advantage of you with cut-rate loans. Consider the plight of Conrad.

When it was revealed that he got special deals from Countrywide, his rejoinder was that he had never met Mozilo. Subsequently, Conrad admitted he had talked to him on the phone. As he recounts in a letter to the Wall Street Journal, Conrad "called a close friend of mine who knew a lot about mortgages for advice. My friend happened to be with the head of Countrywide Financial when I called and put him on the line."

What an unfortunate coincidence: An innocent loan inquiry and Sen. Conrad gets put on the phone with a CEO with myriad high-stakes interests before Congress. Most people asking about their mortgages don't get put through to the CEO, but they don't live with the burdens of senatordom. Conrad was particularly vulnerable because, apparently a financial naif, he's only chairman of the Senate Budget Committee that sets the parameters for the $3 trillion federal budget.

Countrywide waived a one-point fee for Conrad on a 2004 loan and financed his purchase of an eight-unit apartment building even though the company usually didn't finance the purchase of buildings with more than four units. Yes, unbeknownst to him, Conrad had been maneuvered into saving more than $10,000: "I did not think for one moment -- and no one ever suggested to me -- that I was getting preferential treatment."

Dastardly Countrywide had given it to him anyway. No wonder Democrats have condemned Countrywide so loudly (Sen. Chuck Schumer: "a vulture mentality"; Sen. Barack Obama: "these executives crossed the line"). But Conrad got off easy, considering the misfortune of his colleague Dodd.


Rich Lowry

Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years .
 
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