Sen. Christopher Dodd acknowledged Tuesday that he knew he was part of a VIP program for Countrywide Financial, but says he had no idea that it meant he'd get special treatment on his mortgage rates.
Dodd (D-Conn.), along with Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), spent much of Tuesday afternoon answering questions from a swarm of reporters pressing them on why they received lower rates on their mortgages and whether they think they received special treatment because they are Senate committee chairmen.
"The idea of asking for or seeking any kind of special preferential treatment is something I would reject immediately," Dodd said. "That would have ended the relationship" with Countrywide.
But Dodd said he was informed by Countrywide, which is in the middle of the sub prime mortgage meltdown, that he was part of a VIP program for his mortgages in East Haddam, Conn., and Washington, D.C. He said he believes that was merely a courtesy because he and his wife were long time customers, and he wasn't aware of any special benefits for being part of this program.
"We were told there was a VIP section, and we were part of that," Dodd said. But he quickly added that he called several mortgage companies when he refinanced his Connecticut and Washington houses in 2003 and shopped around for rates just like any regular customer would.
Questions about his personal finances dominated a press conference Dodd called to talk about legislation aimed at helping the nationwide housing crisis. At least three times, a Dodd aide tried to end the press conference, but the questions kept coming from reporters.
Conrad, for his part, seemed more geared toward making a mea culpa for any appearance of preferential treatment. Conrad told reporters on Tuesday that he had donated $10,500 to Habitat for Humanity, which is the amount he saved on his lower interest rates for his Bethany Beach, Del., house. And Conrad also said he paid off a separate mortgage in question on an apartment complex in Bismark, N.D. He also said he welcomed a Senate Ethics Committee investigation and he's already working with the panel on providing documents.
Dodd said he didn't believe such an investigation was necessary.
"I don't know what else I can do at this point," said Conrad, who is chairman of the Budget Committee. "My conscience is absolutely clear."
A spokeswoman for the Barbara Boxer, chairwoman of the Ethics Committee, says that "any time a complaint is filed with the Senate Ethics Committee, we take a look at it."