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Following Ethics Questions, Dodd To Refinance Homes

Sen. Chris Dodd announced today that he will refinance a pair of mortgages that have come under scrutiny because he received "VIP" treatment from Countrywide Financial Corp. where he refinanced roughly five years ago.

Dodd, a Democrat, said that the homes, in Dodd's home state of Connecticut as well as Washington, will be refinanced with a different company. He will do so through a third party "in an abundance of caution."

"[Wife] Jackie and I acted properly in our mortgage refinancing negotiations. We did not seek or expect any special rates or terms on our loans and we never received any," Dodd said in a statement. He said "the rates and terms we did negotiate were widely available in the market when we refinanced."

Still, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee said he regretted "having ever done business with Countrywide."

Countrywide has been accused of offering favorable mortgage terms to elected officials. The company was sold to Bank Of America last January.

Following a complaint about the mortgages to the Senate Ethics Committee last year, which triggered a preliminary probe, Dodd was defiant; "As a member of the United States Senate, the idea of asking or seeking any kind of financial preference ... is something I completely reject, and any offer that would ever be made I would terminate immediately any suggestion of it," he said.

But Dodd also acknowledged that he knew he was receiving "VIP" treatment from the company. He said he believed he had the status as a "courtesy" because his previous mortgages were in good standing.

"We asked what it entailed and we were told that it was nothing more than enhanced customer service," Dodd said in the statement today. "For instance, being able to get a person on the phone instead of an automated operator."

Dodd also addressed his appearance on Countrywide's "friends of Angelo" list – Angelo being Countrywide's former CEO, Angelo Mozilo.

"Let me be very clear, we are not friends of Angelo Mozilo and we have never been a friend of his," he said. "We have never communicated with him or anyone else other than loan officers at Countrywide about our mortgages. The first we ever heard of the 'friends of Angelo' list was through press reports last summer. Apparently, Countrywide put us on this list, but it was without our knowledge or consent and as you'll see we negotiated market rates and terms."

"We negotiated only with loan officers," Dodd added. "There was nothing special about the rates, fees, or points. We were never offered special or sweetheart deals and if anyone had made such an offer - we would have severed that relationship immediately."

Dodd has been feeling pressure since the charges surfaced to release the mortgage documents; yesterday, his hometown newspaper implored the senator to "stop waffling" and release them.

He expressed regret today for not doing so sooner.

"I planned on making these documents public after the Ethics Committee completed its work, but I should have realized that with national elections and the start of a new Congress it was unrealistic to expect the Committee to finish by now," he said.

Dodd also released a report in conjunction with the statement from an independent firm that found "that the rates and terms on the Dodd's loans were well within the market at that time."

Sen. Kent Conrad was also charged with receiving preferential treatment from Countrywide last year; soon after, he announced he would donate $10,500 to charity and refinance the loan.

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