In most cases people would celebrate a group of Senate Democrats not showing up for something. But on Tuesday Republicans in the Finance Committee needed their colleagues across the aisle at least in the room to advance a vote on Trump's Treasury nominee Steven Mnuchin. Instead the Democrats, in an unprecedented move, boycotted the hearing.
“This is the most pathetic thing I’ve seen in my whole time in the United States Senate,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, who also once watched Ted Cruz read Green Eggs And Ham during an Obamacare filibuster.
Democrats' main beef was that Mnuchin might have told a little fib over whether the bank he once ran illegally robo-signed on thousands of foreclosures at the height of the financial crisis. In written testimony, Mnuchin wrote, “OneWest Bank did not ‘robo-sign’ documents,” pointing to the findings of an OCC report (which also happened to also find that OneWest made mistakes in nearly 6 percent of its foreclosures.)
Democrats might not be saying the word “lie,” but that's their gist. “Mr. Mnuchin denied that OneWest Bank under his leadership engaged in robo-signing foreclosure documents, but that is demonstrably false,” Sen. Ron Wyden said in a statement. Bob Casey tweeted: “Mr. Mnuchin told me his bank didn't engage in robo-signing, a predatory practice, I found the docs showing he did.”
Apparently it all depends on your definition of robo-signing. In the documents Casey seem to be referring to, for instance, OneWest's former vice president in charge of bankruptcy and foreclosures once admitted under oath to practices that sound a whole lot like robo-signing. Take this, from the Columbus Dispatch, which actually went to the effort of finding Ohio borrowers foreclosed by OneWest:
Court records show that Duncan's mortgage was robo-signed by Erica Johnson-Seck, vice president of OneWest's department of bankruptcy and foreclosures. From her office in Austin, Texas, Johnson-Seck robo-signed an average of 750 foreclosure documents a week, according to a sworn deposition she gave in a Florida case in July 2009.
Under oath, Johnson-Seck acknowledged that she did not read the documents she was signing, taking only about 30 seconds to sign her name. To speed up the process, Johnson-Seck said she shortened her first name on her signature to just an "E." She said in the deposition that OneWest's practice was to review just 10 percent of the foreclosure documents for accuracy.
That does smack of robo-signing – at least if your definition is “bank employees rapidly approv[ing] foreclosure documents without thorough review.” But just because that was the definition the Senate used in its questions to Mnuchin doesn't mean it's the only way you can interpret the term. If your definition involves, say, a literal robot covered in blooping gauges and flashing lights using a mechanical arm to approve foreclosures at superhuman speed, then no, Mnuchin did not lie.
Anyway, Mnuchin's people would like you to know this is all just your typical DC witch hunt – and also that we call CEOs “employees” now. Spokesman Barney Keller: “The media is picking on a hard-working bank employee whose reputation has been maligned but whose work has been upheld by numerous courts all around the country in the face of scurrilous and false allegations.”