The California Democrat said in a Capitol Hill news conference — an event rarely held during a congressional recess — that she reached out to then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson in late 2008 when his department failed to respond to the National Bank Association’s request for a meeting.
“The question at this point should not be why I called Secretary Paulson, but why I had to,” she said. “The question at this point should be why a trade association representing over 100 minority banks could not get a meeting at the height of the crisis.”
But the House ethics committee, which is investigating Waters for allegedly improperly using her position for personal gain, says in its report of charges that when the meeting was held, the officers of only one bank came — OneUnited.
That was by design — the chairman-elect of the National Bankers Association, Robert Cooper, also happened to be the general counsel of OneUnited — he and OneUnited’s president were the only bank officers who came to the Treasury meeting that Waters arranged. Cooper used National Bankers Association letterhead to give the Treasury Department the impression that he was requesting a meeting on behalf of the entire group, when the meeting was really about getting OneUnited a bailout.
When they first came to light, National Bankers Association president Michael Grant called Cooper’s actions “inappropriate“:
A top executive of OneUnited Bank of Boston “improperly” used the auspices of a minority banking association to secure a meeting last September with the US Treasury, at which the bank reportedly sought $50 million in aid for itself, the group’s president said yesterday.
Robert Cooper, senior counsel of OneUnited, requested the meeting in a letter written on stationery of the National Bankers Association and directed to then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. Cooper was the chairman-elect of the group at the time, and said in the letter he was writing “on behalf” of the association to discuss help for minority-owned banks whose investments in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were nearly wiped out when the government took over the ailing institutions just days before.
But the Sept. 9 meeting with top Treasury officials instead became a venue where Cooper’s boss, OneUnited chief executive Kevin Cohee, requested up to $50 million to cover the bank’s own losses in Freddie and Fannie, The New York Times reported yesterday. The Times quoted several of the former Bush administration’s Treasury officials who attended the meeting as being disturbed by Cohee’s request for OneUnited aid.
Michael Grant, the National Bankers Association’s president, said yesterday that neither he nor the group’s chairman at the time knew Cooper had used the association’s stationery to request the meeting, and objected to the action.
“It was inappropriate. Now the board has to make a decision about what to do about it,” Grant said in a telephone interview yesterday. The board will discuss the OneUnited matter at a regular meeting next week, Grant added.
Oddly enough, the board overruled Grant about a week later and decided that Cooper’s actions were “consistent with practices and authority granted him by the Association.” Translation: Of course what Cooper did was wrong, but we don’t want to endanger the career of one of our most devoted patrons in Congress. Grant must have been slow to get the memo.
What’s astonishing about all this now is that Waters has the gall to pull the same trick again, hiding behind the National Bankers Association just as OneUnited did when it first worked with Waters to arrange the Treasury meeting. By letting Cooper’s behavior slide, the Association enabled Waters to use this crazy defense. It might fly with reporters who have short memories about this stuff, but the real story is documented in the Ethics Committee’s case against Waters: It’s unlikely to work during her trial.