There’s compelling evidence to show that Steve Mnuchin, Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of the Treasury, lied to the Senate in both written and verbal testimony. Senate Republicans seem to be taking these offenses in stride. None of the GOP’s “independents” and “mavericks” have indicated that they will oppose his nomination.
If they don’t speak up, these Republicans are placing partisan politics over the rule of law and the integrity of their own institution.
Mnuchin received a written question from Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) about the practice of “robo-signing” at OneWest, the mortgage firm he ran as CEO.
Robo-signing is a form of perjury that occurs when a bank’s employees submit foreclosure documents without reviewing them for accuracy, but falsely state that they have performed those reviews. In this way, banks can quickly foreclose on large numbers of homeowners without going through the processes required by law.
Mnuchin replied, “OneWest Bank did not robo-sign documents …”
Note that Mnuchin didn’t equivocate, or use qualifying statements like “to the best of my knowledge” or “as far as I can recall.” He flatly stated that OneWest never engaged in the practice.
But an investigation by the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch found that OneWest “frequently used robo-signers.” David Dayen noted that a 2011 consent order from the Office of Thrift Supervision included extensive evidence of OneWest’s robo-signing activity, and that an employee of OneWest admitted to robo-signing documents in a 2009 deposition.
That wasn’t Mnuchin’s only “misstatement.” He also failed to report more than $100 million in assets when he submitted his initial financial disclosure form, and did not disclose that he is the director of an investment fund headquartered in the Cayman Islands. (It turns out that Mnuchin is registered to vote in two different states, California and New York. Neither is within commuting distance of the Cayman Islands.)
The nominee also neglected to mention that he plays a management role in seven other investment funds.
Mnuchin called the mistakes “an oversight,” adding: “I think as you all can appreciate, filling out these government forms is quite complicated.” Sen. Robert Menendez replied, “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand the words ‘list all positions.’”
Advise and submit
The applicable statute on Congressional testimony says that “whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the government of the United States, knowingly and willfully” falsifies or conceals information has committed a crime punishable by fine or imprisonment.
Sen. Susan Collins waxed eloquent about the Senate’s responsibility last year, when a Democratic president was slated to appoint a Supreme Court nominee. “Our role in the Senate is to evaluate the nominee’s temperament, intellect, experience, integrity and respect for the Constitution and the rule of law,” Collins wrote.
Maine’s other Republican Senator, Olympia Snowe, also said that one of the factors she uses to assess an Obama Supreme Court nominee was “respect for the rule of law.”
Will either of these senators apply the same standard – “respect for the rule of law” – to Trump’s Treasury nominee?
Then there’s Sen. Lindsey Graham. Graham served as a military lawyer for six and a half years as an officer in the U.S. Air Force JAG Corps, eventually rising to the rank of colonel. He had the common sense to say, “ISIL loves Donald Trump because he is giving them an opportunity to bring people their way.”
Graham’s been burning up Twitter lately with scathing anti-Trump tweets like this one:
“Ultimately, I fear this executive order will become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism.”
Will “respect for the rule of law” lead attorney Graham to vote “no” on Mnuchin?
What about the Senate’s much-vaunted Republican “maverick,” John McCain? Or Alaska Senator Linda Murkowski, a Republican who won as a write-in candidate and once defied her party while saying, “Politics be damned”?
The silent majority
If any Republican Senators are disturbed by Mnuchin’s behavior, they seem to laying pretty low. After Mnuchin testified, in fact, most reports suggested that Republicans were happy with his testimony.
We’ve heard a lot over the years about “good Republicans” who “reach across the aisle,” who respect the legislative process and place patriotism above politics.
Where are they now? Have the “good Republicans” become so partisan that they’re no longer willing to speak up against dishonesty, apparent lawbreaking, or contempt toward the Senate itself?
So far they’ve been silent about Steve Mnuchin.
Mnuchin’s nomination comes up for a vote by the Senate Finance Committee on Monday night, where it is all but certain to pass. It will then go to the entire Senate for confirmation. No surprises are expected there, either.