Emails written by Obama administration Department of Justice officials confirm reports the agency engaged in a systemic effort to funnel money to liberal advocacy organizations from settlements reached with big banks.
The documents, obtained by the House Judiciary Committee as part of an ongoing investigation, reveal the Obama Justice Department effectively skirted Congress’s budgetary authority by requiring that major financial institutions donate to a group of affordable housing nonprofits and legal advocacy organizations as part of settlement agreements resulting from predatory mortgage lending practices.
The internal DOJ documents represent the latest revelation in a two-year investigation spearheaded by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte.
The investigation has thus far yielded evidence implicating the Obama DOJ in using mandatory donations to funnel roughly $1 billion in settlement money to activist groups, including The National Council of La Raza, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition and the National Urban League. The list of third party organizations were unrelated to the legal settlements, except through general claims that they would use the funds to aid the low income Americans most severely harmed by predatory lending practices.
Goodlatte argued that the Obama DOJ practices amounted to the creation of a “slush fund” used to channel money to “left-wing” groups on the House floor Tuesday afternoon before a vote on legislation that would stem the practice. The bill, introduced by Goodlatte in January, prohibits the government from entering into any settlement agreement that benefits any party other than the government, with few exceptions. The vote passed mostly along party lines after hours of debate.
Obama DOJ officials implicated in the effort have defended the settlements on the grounds that the banks made the donations willingly before signing the agreements. Critics allege, and documents suggest, the donations were prearranged and stipulated as requirement under the settlement deals.
The internal documents, turned over to the House Judiciary Committee and obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation, include email exchanges in which DOJ officials discuss how to most effectively funnel settlement funds to liberal advocacy groups, to the explicit exclusion of conservative organizations.
Associate Attorney General Tony West’s deputy, Elizabeth Taylor, asked her colleagues in a November 2013 email, “Can you explain to Tony the best way to allocate some money to an organization of our choosing?”
Another internal email exchange reveals that DOJ officials made a concerted effort to prevent the allocation of settlement funds to a conservative legal group.
“Concerns include: a) not allowing Citi to pick a statewide intermediary like the Pacific Legal Foundation (does conservative property rights free legal services).”
A senior Obama DOJ official confirmed the extensive coordination required to prevent conservative groups from benefiting from the financial settlements in his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. According to the official, West’s team reworded a mandatory donation provision with the explicit goal of “not allowing Citi to pick a statewide intermediary like the Pacific Legal Foundation [PLF],” which, the official explained, “does conservative property-rights free legal services.”
These documents, which appear to show a coordinated effort to hand pick the beneficiaries of the settlement money, contradicts Deputy Attorney General Geoffrey Graber’s February 2015 testimony. Graber told the House Judiciary Committee under oath that “the Department did not want to be in the business of picking and choosing which organization may or may not receive any funding under the agreement.”
Graber’s testimony is further refuted by the contents of an email, sent by another DOJ official, in which she points out that the settlement provisions require the banks to “make donations to categories of entities we have specified (as opposed to what the bank might normally choose to donate to).”
An employee at The Leadership Conference on Civil And Human Rights emailed Taylor in November 2013, asking that the DOJ begin “negotiating with JP Morgan Chase to consider including in any settlement significant equity capital or grant funds to promote and capitalize a Prince William County Restoration Fund.”
The email also suggests that “JP Morgan Chase could be given enhanced credit towards its resettlement requirements for this type of grant or investment.”
A few months later, the DOJ announced large settlement packages that included mandatory donations to various liberal community groups. Further, the settlements included the “enhanced credit” provision the groups suggested, which effectively credited the bank $2 toward their settlement for every $1 donated to a community organization. This settlement structure incentivized the banks to donate to third party nonprofits unconnected to the actual legal wrongdoing, as donations to the plaintiffs in the case were given dollar-for-dollar credit. This provision effectively made donations to housing nonprofits and legal advocacy organizations count twofold toward the bank’s settlement, relative to every dollar given to the actual plaintiffs.
The recipient organizations were so grateful for the hand out that one group, included on a listserv of the approved non profits, suggested they “build a statue [of Tony West] and then we could bow down to this statue each day after we get our $200,000+.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo banning the DOJ from entering into third party settlement agreements after substantial evidence emerged implicating the Obama DOJ in such practices.
“When the federal government settles a case against a corporate wrongdoer, any settlement funds should go first to the victims and then to the American people — not to bankroll third-party special interest groups or the political friends of whoever is in power,” Sessions said.
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