WASHINGTON — Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., dismissed calls Monday by a group with alleged ties to hedge funds to recuse himself from a hearing this week probing the recent enforcement action against Wells Fargo.
The Campaign for Accountability sent a letter Monday urging Corker to stay away from the hearing, arguing a real estate investment trust he was involved with regularly did business with Wells.
But the Tennessee Republican said the group was a shadowy politically motivated special-interest group whose real motivations were to attack Corker at every turn.
"This is yet another ridiculous narrative being peddled by a shadowy, politically motivated special-interest group that refuses to disclose its donors," said Micah Johnson, Corker's communications director. "This dark-money entity has an abysmal track record for accuracy, and just like the other unfounded claims they have leveled against Sen. Corker, this too is completely ridiculous."
Previous reports have tied the group to hedge funds that would benefit from recapitalizing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Corker introduced legislation in 2013 that would wind down the government sponsored-enterprises, rendering the stock worthless.
Corker's office said he planned to attend the hearing, which will feature testimony from Wells CEO John Stumpf.
Corker reportedly came under questioning by the FBI and the Securities and Exchange Commission for insider trading related to CBL & Associates Properties, a real estate investment trust based in Chattanooga, but no evidence of misconduct ever turned up. Corker was mayor of that town from 2001 to 2005 and previously was in the construction and real estate business.
The Campaign for Accountability said Wells regularly financed CBL projects, arguing Corker's relationship with the company creates a conflict of interest. It pointed to a shopping center development in Mobile, Alabama, in which the senator invested.
The 2014 project involved a Chicago-based developer and Hutton Co., a construction firm whose president, Geoff Smith, is a former CBL executive. That project received a loan from Wells which "likely increased" the value of Corker's investment, the Campaign for Accountability said.
"The purpose of the Banking Committee hearing is to hold Wells Fargo accountable for defrauding its customers," said Anne Weismann, executive director of the group. "We don't have confidence that Sen. Corker will put the interests of defrauded victims ahead of a company with which he has financial ties. The defrauded victims would be better served if Sen. Corker left the questioning to senators without financial ties to Wells Fargo."
But Johnson pushed back on Corker's ties to the bank.
"As a minority passive investor in a project in Alabama, he has absolutely nothing to do with the financing for the project, nor is he a party to the Wells Fargo loan," he said.