16 Feb IG report: Ex-housing agency director Watt misused position
Mel Watt, the former director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, misused his position when he attempted to coerce a female employee of the agency to engage in a personal relationship with him, according to a report from the agency’s inspector general.
The report found that Watt, who stepped down as director last month, misused his official position in an effort to obtain a personal benefit and was not candid in answering questions about the incident.
Watt, who served for 21 years as a congressman from North Carolina before taking the FHFA job, said in a response included in the report that he strongly disagreed with the findings.
The IG report was released this week in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by The Washington Post. The name of the employee was redacted in the IG report, but her attorney released a statement to The Associated Press and gave permission for her name to be used.
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In the statement, the employee, Simone Grimes, said, "Standing up for myself against the director of a federal agency of the U.S. government has not been an easy thing to do. I hope all of this will make future complaints against high-powered individuals easier for the next employee (male or female) that finds themselves in a similar position."
In his response to the IG report, Watt said the investigation was aimed at protecting the inspector general’s office from political criticism "instead of making an effort to obtain and fairly report the facts."
The IG report said that Watt had met alone in his apartment with the employee, a subordinate who the director knew desired a promotion at the agency. The report said in a recording of a portion of their conversation in the apartment, Watt can be heard to intermingle comments about his attraction to the employee and his admiration of her physical appearance with a discussion of possible paths by which she could get promoted.
"We find that there are no circumstances under which it would be appropriate for the head of FHFA to induce a subordinate employee to meet with him alone, in his apartment, for a conversation in which he professes his attraction for that employee and holds out opportunities for the employee to serve in specific executive positions over which he exercises total control," the report said.
The FHFA was created to oversee the operations of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac after the government took control of the two mortgage giants during the 2008 financial crisis.
Watt took the director’s job in 2014 after being nominated by President Barack Obama and he left office last month when his term ended.
The Trump administration has nominated Mark Calabria, the chief economist for Vice President Mike Pence, to succeed Watt.