- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2009

UPDATED:

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher J. Dodd said Monday that he would refinance two questionable low-rate mortgages he received from lending giant Countrywide Financial Corp. in 2003, seeking to put behind him a personal ethics controversy as he prepares to shepherd an overhaul of the nation’s financial markets through Congress.

The Connecticut Democrat insisted that he had done nothing wrong in his dealings with Countrywide, a leading marketer of subprime mortgages, and released hundreds of pages of documents related to the two loans. But in a prepared statement that he read at a press briefing in Hartford, Conn., Mr. Dodd said he was sorry that he did not deal with the questions more quickly.

“I regret I did not do this sooner, and I apologize to the people of Connecticut for the delay,” Mr. Dodd said.

He also expressed “regret having ever done business with Countrywide.”

Mr. Dodd and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat, obtained refinanced loans through Countrywide’s “V.I.P.” program, which waived points, fees and other costs for customers deemed “friends” of Countrywide Chairman Angelo Mozilo. Both lawmakers have insisted that they did not know they were being given special treatment.

“We negotiated only with loan officers,” Mr. Dodd said. “There was nothing special about the rates, fees or points. We were never offered special or sweetheart deals, and if anyone had made such an offer, we would have severed the relationship immediately.”

Mr. Dodd said he had delayed releasing financial records of his mortgage applications while waiting for a Senate ethics investigation to finish. But the delay had drawn increasing criticism from newspapers in his home state.

“Countrywide was the poster boy for reckless behavior in the subprime insanity that helped trigger the current financial crisis and resulting recession,” the New London Day wrote in an editorial over the weekend, noting that Mr. Dodd promised to release the mortgage documents eight months ago.

“We again ask Sen. Dodd to release the information. He must know that the continued stalling looks very bad,” the paper said.

As chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, Mr. Dodd oversees the mortgage finance industry and played a key part in fashioning the $700 billion Wall Street bailout plan.

Mr. Dodd said he received a 4.25 percent rate on a refinanced mortgage in 2003 from Countrywide for a Washington town house that he purchased in 1999 and a 4.5 percent rate for a home in East Haddam, Conn., that he had owned for more than 25 years.

Mr. Dodd told reporters that he and his wife, Jackie, would refinance both Countrywide mortgages and, in an “abundance of caution,” would use a third party to negotiate the rate and other terms.

“Let me be very clear, we are not friends of Angelo Mozilo, and we have never been a friend of his,” Mr. Dodd said.

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