WASHINGTON – Top executives at mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac ignored warnings that they were taking on too many risky loans long before the housing market plunged, according to documents released Tuesday by a House committee.
E-mails and other internal documents released by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee show that former Fannie CEO Daniel Mudd and former Freddie Mac CEO Richard Syron disregarded recommendations that they stay away from riskier types of loans.
"Their own risk managers raised warning after warning about the dangers of investing heavily in the subprime and alternative mortgage market. But these warnings were ignored" by the two chief executives, said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the committee's chairman. "Their irresponsible decisions are now costing the taxpayers billions of dollars."
The two companies were seized by government regulators in September. A month later, Freddie Mac asked for an injection of $13.8 billion in government aid after posting a massive quarterly loss. Fannie Mae has yet to request any government aid but has warned it may need to do so soon.
Lawmakers questioned Mudd about an internal Fannie Mae presentation from June 2005 that showed the company at a "strategic crossroads," at which it could either delve into riskier loans or focus on more secure ones.
Questioned about the presentation, Mudd defended his company's effort to compete against Wall Street banks that were pouring money into subprime and other exotic loans.
"We couldn't afford to make the bet that the changes were not going to be permanent," Mudd said.
Mudd and three other former executives of the two companies defended their stewardship in a hearing held by the House committee.
"It's important to remember that Freddie and its sister institution, Fannie Mae, did not create the subprime market," said Richard Syron, Freddie Mac's former CEO.
But Rep. Darrell Issa, R. Calif., blasted Syron and Mudd, along with former Fannie Mae CEO Franklin Raines, and former Freddie Mac CEO Leland Brendsel.
"All four of you seem to be in complete denial that Freddie and Fannie are in any way responsible for this. Your whole excuse for going to risky and unreasonable loans that are defaulting at an incredibly high rate is that everyone is doing it. If we don't do it, we'll be left out."
Fannie and Freddie own or guarantee around half the $11.5 trillion in U.S. outstanding home loan debt. The two companies are the engines behind a complex process of buying, bundling and selling mortgages as investments.
They traditionally backed the safest loans, 30-year fixed rate mortgages that required a down payment of at least 20 percent. But in recent years, they lowered their standards, matching a decline fueled by Wall Street banks that backed the now-defunct subprime lending industry.
Republicans blame Fannie and Freddie, and homeownership policies of the Clinton administration for sowing the seeds of the financial meltdown. Democrats defend the companies' role in encouraging homeownership and stress that Wall Street banks — not Fannie and Freddie — led the dramatic decline in lending standards.
For years the two companies flexed their lobbying muscle in Washington to thwart efforts to impose tighter regulation.
Internal Freddie Mac budget records obtained by The Associated Press show $11.7 million was paid to 52 outside lobbyists and consultants in 2006. Power brokers such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato of New York were recruited with six-figure contracts.
The more difficult questions, however, will come next year, when lawmakers weigh what role, if any, the two companies play should play in the mortgage market.
Options include taking the companies private, morphing them into a public utility or a federal agency, or leaving them as government-sponsored entities that have private shareholders and profits, with tougher regulations.