The New York Times recently obtained a "blunt memo" circulated by a departing "career economist" at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) alleging questionable "maneuvers" by Trump-appointed officials. The Times report on the memo does not discuss the apparent ideological motivations of the memo's author.
Jonathan Lanning, currently employed by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, sent the memo in question to a select group of colleagues on his last day of work at the CFPB before quitting in August 2019. The memo is chiefly concerned with the Trump administration's efforts to change an Obama-era rule imposing tight restrictions on the payday lending industry.
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The fact that the Times was able to "obtain" an original copy of the memo from a "current bureau employee," days before the agency was expected to unveil its proposed revisions to the payday lending rule, was certainly a timely development. It would be absurd to suggest the memo's release was part of a coordinated effort by Trump administration critics, some of whom are preparing to sue the CFPB as soon as the revised rule is announced.
Lanning told the Times his intent in writing the memo was simply to inform new staff members of the "history and process" behind the rule revision and declined to comment further. The memo itself, however, includes numerous references to the potential "legal risk" the Trump appointees were incurring by refusing to respect Lanning's expertise.
The "concerns" outlined in Lanning's memo regarding the behavior of Trump-appointed officials include a lack of "direct communication/discussions," "citing out of context sentences from articles," and a "general lack of appreciation for staff expertise."
The report does not mention, however, that Lanning helped write the CFPB research paper used to justify the original rule under the Obama administration. The Times also neglects to note that Lanning has given money to several Democratic candidates in 2020, including chief CFPB booster Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.).
Lanning's political affiliations are further evidenced by his participation in numerous ex parte meetings with liberal advocacy groups such as Americans for Financial Reform, the Center for American Progress, and the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL).
CRL was intimately involved in drafting the original payday lending rule, according to a Politico report published in 2015. At the same time, CRL was urging the Obama administration to support a small-dollar loan program run by CRL's own financial services arm, the Self-Help Credit Union, as an alternative to payday lending.
One of the original recipients of Lanning's memo, former CFPB associate director David Silberman, resigned from the agency in February to become a senior adviser to CRL.
By contrast, the Times‘ initial report on Tara Reade's allegation of sexual assault against former vice president Joe Biden contains several paragraphs detailing Reade's support for Biden's opponents in the Democratic primary. It also included comments Reade had made in praise of Russian president Vladimir Putin.