- The Washington Times - Friday, October 16, 2009

House Democrats found a novel way to protect two of their own - they simply didn’t show up for a scheduled hearing that was to deal in part with a probe into insider loans given to Democratic lawmakers from collapsed mortgage giant Countrywide Financial.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s top Republican, Rep. Darrell Issa of California, has been pressing panel Chairman Edolphus Towns, New York Democrat, to subpoena Countrywide for records regarding its VIP program that gave sweetheart deals to Democratic Sens. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Kent Conrad of North Dakota.

Even though a Senate ethics panel already has exonerated the senators, Mr. Issa announced Thursday morning that he planned to formally ask Mr. Towns at an afternoon meeting to allow the committee to vote on whether or not to subpoena Countrywide. Mr. Towns has been reluctant to do so.

But when Mr. Issa and his Republican members of the committee showed up for the 2 p.m. session at the Rayburn House Office Building, nary a Democrat could be found in the hearing room.

After a half-hour the Republicans abandoned their wait, as lawmakers were requested to return to the House floor for votes.

“Democrats may have skated out of today’s vote, but they can rest assured that Republicans will again demand a vote to hold Countrywide accountable,” Mr. Issa said.

Mr. Towns shot down the accusation, saying that he delayed - and eventually postponed - the bill-writing session because several Democrats were at a House Financial Services Committee hearing that was running late.

The chairman added that if Mr. Issa wants a subpoena vote, “we’ll give him a vote - simple as that.”

But Republican staffers said they saw a gaggle of Democrats leave a back committee room 30 minutes after the session’s scheduled start. Mr. Issa’s staff later sent reporters a link to a YouTube video of the Democratic exodus set to the tune of “Hit the Road Jack,” as well as empty Democratic seats in the committee chamber.

The chairman’s staff said the camera operator wasn’t given permission to film inside the chamber and that the YouTube video therefore was unauthorized.

A senior Democratic aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the Democrats met behind closed doors to discuss a request by some to subpoena records on the mortgage industry’s political contributions to Republicans.

Mr. Issa says securing the Countrywide documents is vital in order to discover if other members of Congress received special low-interest loans through Countrywide’s “Friends of Angelo” program - a potential ethics violation.

But some Democrats on the panel say issuing a subpoena to Countrywide would be akin to a witch hunt. They add that Mr. Issa is playing politics with the issue because the House ethics committee - not the oversight panel - has authority over the matter.

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