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CNN "Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees" - Transcript

Interview

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COOPER: So, Congressman, I think a lot people will be very upset to realize that politicians and their staffs were getting these sweetheart deals from a company that was actually lobbying them.

In your opinion, did anyone here commit a crime?

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: Well, there was no quid pro quo. We could not directly tie somebody's vote directly to getting this benefit as the report points out.

But, boy, it skirts awfully close. You're given a benefit to something that your friends and neighbors or somebody off the street wouldn't be able to get because they were members of Congress or because they were working for members of Congress.

COOPER: What I found amazing in your report is that according to the report, these sweetheart deals basically came about because so many congressional staffers were actually complaining to the Countrywide lobbyists about their own personal loans, and so the lobbyists sort of spent the first 30 minutes of meetings dealing with people's personal complaints. That just seems outrageous to me.

CHAFFETZ: It does, particularly when you're on the committees that are charged with maybe tightening up the rules and regulations, because we were dealing with all these bad loans and whatnot.

And these people, they were complaining about them, but then -- so they took this program, internal program and they called it Friends of Angelo and decided to go ahead and start helping these people. And it's just wrong. It didn't smell right, didn't look right because it wasn't right.

COOPER: It would be as if I went to interview the head of Countrywide and I spent the first 30 minutes of the interview or before the cameras are rolling complaining about my personal mortgage to the guy and then get directed to some program. I would be fired for that.

CHAFFETZ: Look, they were put -- a little bait was put out in front of these people and unfortunately a number of them bit on both sides of the aisle. Key, important people, they bit at this stuff. Some claim that, well, they didn't really understand what they were doing, but that doesn't seem like much of a defense to me.

COOPER: Yes. A lot of the members of Congress claim they never knew they were part of any preferential program. Are they lying? Do you have any proof that they did in fact know they were?

CHAFFETZ: Could not directly tie that.

This investigation lasted some three years. Again, people on both sides of the aisle. But this was something you couldn't just pick up the phone or go down to your local Countrywide representative and get. You could only get it by dealing with the Friends of Angelo. And it seems obvious to me. But I don't know. COOPER: Yes, the Senate Budget Committee chairman, Kent Conrad, said to Politico that the Senate Ethics Committee concluded unanimously he didn't receive any sweetheart deal on any transaction.

Your report, though, alleges that he did, that he saved something like $20,000 through two preferred loans. So did the Ethics Committee get it wrong in the Senate?

CHAFFETZ: Well, the Ethics Committee in general is fairly impotent. Usually, it's -- the voters have to deal with this and make these types of decisions.

What we could not directly tie was, hey, you got this sweetheart deal in exchange directly for this particular vote or for changing a piece of legislation. We could never directly tie those two together, but you can see what the consequences were. The taxpayers ended up footing all of these bills. And at the same time, some of the key people on Finance and Banking and the key staffers, one term that was used is this person has the pen in hand.

That is, they were a staffer that was actually helping to write this piece of legislation. You can understand why when this lobbyist said to the committee this is why this person was targeted, you can see that there was there was an attempt here to influence.

COOPER: The report now concludes that Congress should consider making it illegal for companies to offer discounts or other types of preferential treatment to members of Congress or their staff. I think most people would say that seems like common sense. Do you expect that is actually going to happen, though?

CHAFFETZ: Well, as you said, it's very difficult to legislate common sense.

And, look, it is already inappropriate and illegal for a member of Congress to accept something that they wouldn't otherwise be able to get.

So I don't understand why the Ethics Committee thinks that there's nothing. Here in the House,I think there's still some outstanding issues. But it was wrong. It doesn't look right, it doesn't smell right because it wasn't right, Anderson. And I'm glad that we did this report and hopefully it sheds more light on the issue.

COOPER: Yes, I'm glad you did it too. And again as you point out, this is folks on both sides of the aisle here, Republicans and Democrats, involved in this.

Congressman Chaffetz, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

CHAFFETZ: Thanks, Anderson.

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