U.S. consumer financial watchdog accuses congressional critics of 'misstatements'

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The head of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau accused congressional critics of relying on “misstatements” to criticize his agency, which was set up under former President Barack Obama to pursue bad behavior by financial institutions.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray speaks in Washington, October 17, 2014. REUTERS/Larry Downing

Richard Cordray, the bureau’s director, wrote to “correct the record” in a letter sent to a congressional panel on Wednesday regarding a recent report critical of the CFPB’s work in a high-profile scandal.

The five-page letter took issue with multiple conclusions reached in a report released earlier this month by Republican staff on the House Financial Services Committee.

Some members of the committee have pushed for Republican President Donald Trump to fire Cordray, who has headed the agency since he was appointed by Obama, a Democrat, in 2012.

The report said the CFPB had been an ineffective watchdog against Wells Fargo & Co, missing extensive improper sales practices and taking action only after work on the bank’s unauthorized accounts scandal had been done by others.

The committee’s report also depicted the CFPB as reluctant to cooperate with the panel’s Well Fargo probe.

Cordray insisted that his agency had done critical work in policing Wells Fargo, and said the report “devolves into various misstatements and allegations” about the CFPB’s work.

The CFPB, along with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the city and county of Los Angeles, struck a $185 million settlement against the bank in September.

Cordray argued that improper sales practices were underway at Wells Fargo as far back as 2001, while his agency was only fully staffed in 2014. He maintained the CFPB had acted properly in monitoring the bank, and the CFPB’s presence allowed the federal government to provide relief to wronged consumers across the country as part of the settlement.

He went on to accuse Republican staff of refusing to receive a September briefing from his staff on Wells Fargo, instead demanding he personally brief them with one day’s notice, which he was unable to do. He said he also offered to publicly testify at a committee hearing devoted to Wells Fargo, but did not receive an invitation.

A committee spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cordray is one of a handful of remaining regulatory heads that were appointed by Obama. Republicans have criticized the CFPB since it created as part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law. Efforts to fundamentally reshape the agency have ramped up since the November 2016 election.

Reporting by Pete Schroeder; Editing by Tom Brown