WASHINGTON -- Saying he was stunned when the Senate Banking Committee rejected him for a second term, Comptroller of the Currency Robert L. Clarke Monday criticized how panel Chairman Donald W. Riegle handled the nomination.
In his first interview since the committee's 12-to-9 vote Nov. 6, Mr. Clarke said that the Michigan Democrat had refused to return his calls and would not meet with him during the 10-month nomination process.
"I, on several occasions, tried to just go sit down [with Sen. Riegle] and say, one-on-one, 'Look, what's the problem?', but you can't talk to someone who won't talk to you," Mr. Clarke said.
Asked if he thought Sen. Riegle's objection to him was personal, Mr. Clarke replied: "It certainly seemed that way. But if it was, it was for reasons totally unknown to me."
"There is nothing personal in it at all," said Sen. Riegle.
"At the end of term there has to be some accountability," the senator said.
Mr. Clarke said he plans to announce his resignation today in Kansas City at a meeting of 240 of his agency's supervisors.
"I'd like to stay a reasonable period of time . . . but I am going to put an end on it," he said.
May Stay 90 Days
Mr. Clarke, 49, declined to specify when the resignation would take effect, saying he wanted his employees to learn it directly from him. Insiders said he is not expected to stay more than 90 days.
Mr. Clarke said, "The message that gets sent by the spectacle of the confirmation hearings is that it's only tough activity by bank examiners that gets rewarded."
But he said he will tell supervisors not to overreact by being overzealous. "The worst thing you can do is throw away all your judgment," he said, "and go back to doing it by the numbers."
Mr. Clarke said he had thought he had enough votes on the committee to be confirmed. "I never thought for a minute that . . . [the renomination] would not happen."
Sen. Riegle had criticized Mr. Clarke's record, saying lax supervision precipitated costly bank failures such as at Bank of New England.
But Mr. Clarke said politics was behind his downfall. The Comptroller's office is "the only agency that is part of the executive branch, and if you want to take a pot shot at the administration," he said, "I'm the most inviting target."
Asked why Sen. Riegle's objections might be personal, Mr. Clarke said: "I hope you can someday find that out because I'd love to know."
He said he has no regrets.
Mr. Clarke said he was considering helping President Bush get reelected, returning to his banking law practice in Houston, serving on boards of directors, or some sort of entrepreneurial activity.