INSIDE THE CFPB: Top consumer watchdog agency has been thrown into chaos amid a tumultuous leadership battle
- Current officials at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau spoke to Business Insider to describe the state of the agency amid a conflict between the Trump administration and the former director over who is currently leading the agency.
- Some officials said that director, Richard Cordray, was correct in naming his successor.
- Others said Cordray pulled a political stunt, already knowing that he did not possess the proper authority to supersede a presidential replacement.
Current officials at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau who spoke with Business Insider are confused, worried about their employment, and uncertain about the future after a messy battle between the Trump administration and the recently departed agency director, Richard Cordray, led to two people claiming to serve as the bureau's acting director.
Some officials who spoke with Business Insider said that Cordray, who named his deputy, Leandra English, as his successor, had the proper authority to do so. But others said Cordray overstepped and pulled what was clearly a political stunt on his way out the door, making a maneuver that the CFPB's general counsel alerted him beforehand would not supersede the president's authority to name a successor.
The skirmish over the acting director role centers on language in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act and whether it usurps the 1998 Federal Vacancies Reform Act. President Donald Trump and his allies say the 1998 law gives him the authority to make the appointment rather than Cordray, who was nominated by President Barack Obama to head the independent agency. The general counsel for the CFPB has sided with the Trump administration on the matter.
"What the media doesn't know is that our legal department has been looking into this for a long, long time," one current CFPB official told Business Insider. "And they have already said and told the former director that they believe the president has the authority to appoint an interim director in spite of the Dodd-Frank Act's language. So the whole thing frankly is a political stunt and all of the people are actually quite angry because they think this is nothing but political."
"Frankly, at the end of the day, who's going to benefit from this whole thing, and who's going to be the biggest loser?" they continued. "The biggest loser will be the people who actually work at the bureau."
The employees, who requested anonymity so as not to imperil their employment, spoke amid an awkward saga that started on Friday when Cordray, who left the post earlier than originally planned, named English as his successor. Trump soon followed suit by naming Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney as acting director until a Senate-confirmed nominee can take over the role.
English then filed a lawsuit in federal court on Sunday, in which she called herself the "rightful acting director," seeking a temporary restraining order to prevent Mulvaney from fulfilling Trump's appointment. On Tuesday, a judge ruled in favor of the Trump administration and Mulvaney as the rightful acting director of the CFPB.
Even as a court has now sided with Trump, that debate is still playing out among the CFPB rank-and-file, with some acknowledging the president has the proper power to usurp Dodd-Frank - which contains language stating the bureau's deputy director shall "serve as acting director in the absence or unavailability of the director" - while others remain convinced that it is English who is the rightful acting director. The heart of the dispute is whether "absence" or "unavailability" in Dodd-Frank means a vacancy, as is the case here.
What everyone who spoke with Business Insider agreed on, however, was that the episode is "very confusing."
"I think there is a great deal of confusion and uncertainty in terms of the future direction of the agency, their ability to carry out their function and mission, and fear about what a director that once called our organization a "sick joke" might do at the helm of the organization," one CFPB official said, pointing to a comment Mulvaney once made about the agency when he was a member of Congress.
'All of the senior leadership is firmly behind Mulvaney'
One official said Trump's move to get Mulvaney installed as acting director was proof of the president's "attempt to subvert our mission" by "forcing an interim director" upon the agency.
"I personally find it is sad to see the organization that was intended to be a non-partisan organization charged with the important mission of protecting consumers being dragged into a political fight," they said. "The CFPB has consistently been characterized as partisan when I would argue our record, and mission, is not."
Another official said they were "very worried" that on Monday the bureau would end up being divided over who was looked at as its leader. But they added that it "turns out that's not the case."
"All of the senior leadership is firmly behind Mulvaney," they said. "Whether they truly are behind him or not is a different story."
In his first day at the agency, Mulvaney held a defiant press conference during which he promised to institute a 30-day hiring freeze, as well as a freeze on new rules for the same time frame. Though he said he wouldn't "blow it up," Mulvaney had little good to say about the current state of the CFPB, which he blasted as "flawed," "completely unaccountable," and an "awful example of bureaucracy."
He also took shots at English, who met with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Warren on Capitol Hill on Monday.
"Only in Washington could you get sued for actually showing up for work," he said of the lawsuit English filed in federal court.
"I don't know if a no-call, no-show for one day justifies termination," he added, making note that she did not show up at the agency on Monday. "We'll have to find out. Look, we expect people to work."
The two fired off dueling emails, both signed as "acting director." Mulvaney, who brought doughnuts in on Monday as a gesture, wrote that staffers should disregard any instructions from English related to "her actual or presumed official duties."
"Leandra didn't think to bring donuts," an official joked to Business Insider. "As far as I know, with little flares here and there, everyone is sort of trying to make it work."
Another official said employees are "absolutely" aware of what's "coming" under Mulvaney - large scale changes.
"Nobody is under the illusion that the bureau will stay the same," they said. "Things will change. Mulvaney said very clearly to the bureau staff that he will make changes."
The official added that "there are people who are actually worried about their jobs."
And that has created some negative sentiment toward English, whom the official said was not likely to be forced out due to her senior status.
"Leandra, she probably will not have to worry about that at all," they said. "That's why people are quite angry about it."
The CFPB did not return a request for comment from Business Insider.