President Trump vowed Friday to pursue strong penalties against Wells Fargo, denying a report that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is reviewing tens of millions of dollars in proposed fines to be paid by the embattled bank.
Trump wrote on Twitter that fines against the $1.9 trillion-asset bank will be pursued and possibly strengthened.
Fines and penalties against Wells Fargo Bank for their bad acts against their customers and others will not be dropped, as has incorrectly been reported, but will be pursued and, if anything, substantially increased. I will cut Regs but make penalties severe when caught cheating!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 8, 2017
The president appeared to be responding to a Reuters story that was published Thursday. The story cited anonymous sources who said that acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney is reviewing the terms of a tentative settlement with Wells regarding alleged wrongdoing in its mortgage business. The report said that former CFPB Director Richard Cordray approved the proposed terms before stepping down in November.
When asked for comment about the president's tweet, a Mulvaney aide at CFPB said that the bureau cannot discuss any pending enforcement actions. "However, as a matter of principle, Acting Director Mulvaney shares the President's firm commitment to punishing bad actors and protecting American consumers," John Czwartacki, a senior advisor at CFPB, said in an email.
A Wells Fargo spokesman declined to comment.
Trump's comments are likely to add fuel to a growing controversy regarding the independence of federal financial regulators. Mulvaney's appointment to head the CFPB has drawn sharp criticism from Democrats, in part because the former South Carolina congressman also serves as the head of the White House Office of Management and Budget. Mulvaney has vowed to place a political appointee at the top of each division at the CFPB.
The CFPB, like the Federal Reserve Board, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, is an independent agency. Such agencies have certain statutory protections from White House edicts.
At a recent congressional hearing, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, asked Trump's nominee for Fed chair, Jerome Powell, how he would maintain the Fed's indepedence from political pressure, especially from the White House.
"I'm strongly committed to an independent Federal Reserve," responded Powell, who is currently awaiting a Senate confirmation vote. "I would add, nothing in my conversations with anyone in the administration has given any concern on that front."
Trump has yet to nominate a permanent successor to Cordray at the CFPB. Mulvaney said recently that he expects to serve as acting director for five to seven months.
Wells has agreed to refund fees to mortgage customers who were improperly charged to extend the period of time in which they had locked in a specific interest rate. The mortgage woes are just one of several scandals involving the San Francisco-based bank, which saw its reputation tarnished following revelations that employees opened as many as 3.5 million unauthorized customer accounts.
Updated December 8, 2017 at 12:56PM: This story was updated to include comments from a Mulvaney aide at CFPB and Wells Fargo.