New Consumer Financial Protection Bureau acting Director Mick Mulvaney said Thursday that he is scrutinizing more than 125 active investigations of lenders by the agency as he decides whether his liberal predecessor exceeded his authority with any of the probes.
Mr. Mulvaney told The Washington Times in an interview that, since taking over Monday for former director Richard Cordray, he is sorting through files on a case-by-case basis to “make sure that we are not going beyond the mandate, that we are not abusing our position, and that we are not getting in the way of the proper functioning of the financial services and capital markets.”
“I’ve got a notebook in front of me with 28 enforcement matters in litigation right now that I’m reviewing,” Mr. Mulvaney told The Times. “There are 14 open enforcement matters that are in settle-to-sue authority that Mr. Cordray gave, that I’m reviewing. Then there are 90 enforcement investigations which are ongoing. That’s what I’m combing through.”
He said one thing that’s clear so far is he needs help. He is asking President Trump for more political appointees to transfer to the CFPB from elsewhere in the administration.
“We’re trying to get help over here,” Mr. Mulvaney said. “It’s a 1,500-person agency, and right now there’s one political appointee, and it’s me. A lot of what we’re doing this week is to try and get folks here to help with this transition.”
He plans to make CFPB more responsive than his predecessor to requests from Congress for information about the bureau’s operations. Mr. Mulvaney said he has had communications with House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, Texas Republican, and Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo, Idaho Republican.
“We’re trying to figure out how forthcoming we’ve been to congressional requests,” he said. “We are looking forward to being much more forthcoming … than previous management here. What I have told Mr. Hensarling and what I have told Sen. Crapo is that we look forward to working with them and participating in more rigorous congressional oversight.”
Mr. Trump tapped Mr. Mulvaney, the White House budget director, to take over the consumer agency temporarily after the resignation of Obama-era director Mr. Cordray late last week. The CFPB’s deputy director, Leandra English, filed suit to stop Mr. Mulvaney from taking control and asserting that she was the rightful acting director, but a federal judge denied her request for a restraining order.
Ms. English’s attorney has said she will appeal. A group of Republican senators told Mr. Mulvaney in a letter Thursday that if Ms. English ultimately wins in court, they will work to invalidate any regulations issued by the CFPB under her leadership.
“Unfortunately, this rogue employee is trying to follow former CFPB Director Cordray’s example and run the agency as an unaccountable fourth branch of government,” wrote Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska and seven others. “Should this employee prevail in court and successfully serve as acting director, we would support legislative efforts to invalidate any new rules finalized by the agency during this employee’s service, including the use of the Congressional Review Act.”
They also said they would try to defund the agency if Ms. English wins in court, although CFPB receives its funds from the Federal Reserve, not from congressional appropriations.
Mr. Mulvaney, whose office is next to Ms. English’s, said they have not had any face-to-face interactions this week.
“I have seen her in passing, [but] she’s not been physically in the office very much in the last couple of days,” he said.
Since its inception during the Obama administration, the CFPB has levied civil penalties totaling nearly $12 billion against banks, credit card companies and payday lenders for violations of consumer laws.
As he starts to carry out Mr. Trump’s order to “refocus” the bureau’s agenda, Mr. Mulvaney said that “we’re also trying to come up with new metrics on how the staff here should pursue the ongoing cases.”
“There are some things we can do unilaterally. In fact, there’s a lot we can be doing over here unilaterally and will be doing,” he said.
Among the first steps that Mr. Mulvaney took were ordering freezes on hiring and on new regulations.
“We stopped a good many things,” he said. “We stopped all new regs going out the door. We stopped all the new contracting. We’re stopping the filing of new lawsuits.”
Democrats such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts accuse the administration and Mr. Mulvaney of trying to roll back the CFPB’s authority and gut its independent power.
Former Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat who co-authored the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory law that created the CFPB, said he is “very fearful” that Mr. Mulvaney “will be there in perpetuity until the president appoints someone else.”
“He’s been very clear and very honest and straightforward — he wants to get rid of the CFPB, he wants to get rid of the underlying legislation,” Mr. Dodd told reporters on a conference call. “The idea that we appoint or have a temporary director who may be there for a long time who’s vehemently opposed to his agency and vehemently opposed to this bill, of course is a great disservice.”
Republicans, including Mr. Mulvaney while he served in the House, have long argued that the CFPB has been overstepping its authority and should be accountable to elected officials.
But he said long-term structural change at the bureau, such as making it answerable to Congress, can come only by amending the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory law that created the CFPB.
“There’s only so much we can do without legislative change,” Mr. Mulvaney said. “If the statute says we ‘shall’ do something, we sort of have to do that. The real question becomes, how do you implement those congressional mandates.”
The Republican senators who wrote to Mr. Mulvaney on Thursday said Mr. Cordray’s efforts to install Ms. English as his hand-picked head of the bureau “are a clear demonstration of the dangers of the CFPB’s unconstitutional, unaccountable structure.”
“We believe in protecting consumers but disagreement about how to do so must not come at the expense of our constitution,” the lawmakers wrote. “Our nation’s founders instituted multiple checks and balances on the unrestrained use of executive power. This outrageous attempt to subvert your appointment as acting director of the CFPB violates those foundational principles.”
The battle for control of CFPB has frustrations running high at the bureau. Asked how CFPB employees have received him this week, Mr. Mulvaney said, “I have absolutely no complaints. My guess is that a lot of folks within the rank and file are fairly disappointed to see me here. But the executive team has been extraordinarily professional.”