As #MeToo engulfs Capitol Hill, FHFA's Watt feels the heat
WASHINGTON — On a day when the nation was engrossed by the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, a similar dynamic was at play across the Capitol at a House hearing for Federal Housing Finance Director Mel Watt.
Watt stands accused of sexually harassing Simone Grimes, an agency employee, and denying her a pay increase. It is just one of several scandals that has roiled the agency. FHFA Inspector General Laura Wertheimer is also under investigation for allegedly bowing to pressure from Watt to lessen her oversight of the agency.
The hearing before the House Financial Services Committee was initially scheduled to look at other criticism of the FHFA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the CEOs of the two mortgage giants were called to testify. But Grimes' testimony and Watt's defiant denials of impropriety overshadowed the hearing, where members of both parties took the FHFA director to task for his alleged behavior.
Grimes, the first witness, not only recounted misgivings about Watt, but also the agency's culture under his watch and how Wertheimer responded to her allegations.
“I would like to say it’s difficult to come forward. I will not understate the difficulties and obstacles I have faced,” Grimes said.
Watt, whose term ends in January but has faced pressure to resign sooner, insisted to the committee that he had not crossed a line with Grimes and strongly disputed the allegations levied against him, sometimes angrily.
“I am confident that the resolution" of the legal process "will confirm, as I have previously stated, that I did not take any actions or engage in any conduct involving Ms. Grimes that was contrary to law,” Watt said.
Here are four key takeaways from the hearing: