Eric T. Schneiderman, the New York attorney general who is co-chairing President Obama's investigative working group on the mortgage crisis, told members of the House Progressive Caucus that he is beginning to get the resources he needs to hold the people who caused the foreclosure crisis accountable. But he urged them—and progressive activists—to keep up the pressure for accountability.
"I would urge you to provide all of the support and encouragement and other forms of stimulation you can for full staffing and a full investigation," he told caucus members at a panel in the Rayburn House Office Building.
His working group is charged with investigating the behavior that led to the collapse of the housing market and millions of home foreclosures. Schneiderman said that his investigation includes "stuff that was made legal that should not have been," "conduct that is in fact criminal," and actions that could be prosecuted under federal or state civil statutes.
Responding to a question by Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., on whether he was getting the resources he needed to do a thorough investigation and bring criminals to justice, he said, "I don't have the resources yet" but he is pulling those resources together.
He said he has hired "over 50 new people" in addition to the 15 people on his core staff and that he has job postings for additional positions. He said that he expects to be more properly staffed "at the end of the day" but he encouraged caucus members and others to join him in making sure he has what he needs.
"I have some virtues and patience is not one of them," he said.
Schneiderman did not address a comment made by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner that suggested that the root of the mortgage meltdown was "a mix of stupidity and greed and recklessness and risk-taking and hope" rather than criminal wrong-doing. In a statement issued by Campaign for a Fair Settlement , Campaign for America's Future co-director Robert Borosage said, "It is stunning for the President's top-ranking economic official to dismiss the idea of criminal wrongdoing."
But while Schneiderman used similar language in his opening statement—that the financial crash was "caused by recklessness, deregulation and greed"—he later added that some of the conduct involved "may be illegal" and that one of his jobs was to "get everything out in the open to make sure this does not happen again."
Later, he added that his office was aggressively working to "toll the statute of limitations," or suspend time limits on when he can legally bring a criminal prosecution, on some actions he wants to probe.
Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, said that he is continually encountering homeowners who are having to fight to save their homes against financial institutions who are refusing to work with the homeowners to avoid foreclosure. One such family, he said, did manage to get Wells Fargo to reduce their mortgage payments from $2,600 a month to around $700 a month, but only after Grijalva's office intervened. He called that success "a rare, rare thing."
He decried "the fact that we talk about this crisis as pest tense when this is with us every day."