WASHINGTON — Sen. Sherrod Brown, the top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, came out swinging Wednesday after the Treasury Department confirmed it would select banking attorney Keith Noreika as the interim head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency until a permanent replacement is nominated.

The Ohio Democrat blasted the move, which goes into effect Friday, arguing that the Trump administration was rushing to oust Comptroller Thomas Curry, whose term expired last month but who had said he planned to stay on until a successor is nominated and confirmed.

"Comptroller Curry has been a strong, independent watchdog for the nation’s biggest banks, and a dedicated, thoughtful public servant who helped respond to the worst financial crisis in generations," Brown said. "It is disturbing that the president is rushing to replace Mr. Curry with an acting appointee who has clear conflicts of interest, and lacks any experience in running such an important agency.”

"It is far from clear whether the OCC has authority to grant national bank charters to them," wrote Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio (pictured), and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.
"It is disturbing that the president is rushing to replace Mr. Curry with an acting appointee who has clear conflicts of interest," said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. Image: Bloomberg News

It was not immediately clear what "conflicts of interest" that Brown was referring to. Noreika is currently a partner with Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, which presumably includes national banks as clients, but many banking attorneys have served as head of the OCC in the past. Calls to Simpson Thacher seeking comment were not immediately returned.

Nor was it clear why the Trump administration wanted to install Noreika on a temporary basis when it has a permanent replacement waiting in the wings. The administration has reportedly been close to naming former OneWest executive Joseph Otting as comptroller since March, but no official confirmation has yet emerged from the White House.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin selected Noreika to serve as first deputy comptroller early Wednesday morning, a position that makes him acting head of the OCC when Curry steps down May 5.

Curry’s term expired April 9. It is not uncommon for the first deputy comptroller to serve as acting comptroller while awaiting a permanent nominee, but it is less common for an incoming administration to appoint someone from outside the agency to serve as that placeholder.

In a news release, Curry said he was proud of his service, and he thanked the agency’s employees for their dedication to their work.

“Serving as Comptroller of the Currency has been the highlight of my career,” he said. “The Comptroller is a special job and I am proud to have served with 4,000 men and women who showed such deep dedication to the agency’s mission of ensuring the safety and soundness of the federal banking system and the fair treatment of its customers.”

Noreika, who graduated from Harvard Law in 1997, has made his career representing banks and other financial institutions before federal regulators — primarily with the law firm Covington & Burling, where he was an associate and later partner for almost 18 years. He joined Simpson Thacher as a partner and head of the firm’s financial regulatory practice last August.

Mnuchin said in a statement that Noreika “has deep experience in helping banks operate in a safe and sound manner, provide fair access to financial services, and provide credit needed for business expansion and job growth” and that he is “confident that he will capably lead the OCC in carrying out its important mission.”

Curry’s ouster was not entirely unexpected; reports of his replacement with an interim Comptroller had emerged on Monday.

Since President Trump’s inauguration, only a handful of financial regulators have been nominated to vacant posts — Mnuchin, Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chairman Christopher Giancarlo (who was already serving as a commissioner) and Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton, whose nomination was confirmed by the Senate late Tuesday.

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