MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
NPR in an exclusive report today found radical changes are ahead for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. That's the bureau that was created after the financial crisis to protect Americans from getting ripped off by financial firms. NPR's Chris Arnold obtained a memo saying the new boss of the CFPB is about to unveil a plan for the bureau to make it less aggressive in its mission to protect consumers. The founding director, Richard Cordray, resigned in November, and President Trump's interim appointee to run the bureau is controversial.
Chris Arnold is here now to explain more about what he found. Hey, Chris.
CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.
KELLY: Start with this memo that you got your hands on. What does it say?
ARNOLD: Well, it says that this new director, who is Mick Mulvaney, former Republican congressman - it was controversial when Trump brought him in because when he was in Congress, he drafted legislation to abolish the bureau. And he's among Republicans who don't like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for reasons we can get into. But...
KELLY: Who haven't liked it from Day 1, didn't want it to be set up. Yeah.
ARNOLD: From Day 1. They've basically...
KELLY: And still don't like it.
ARNOLD: Yes. They feel like it's too powerful, Congress doesn't control it, and it's sort of government overreach.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MICK MULVANEY: It has no accountability to anybody. It turns up being a joke. And that's what the CFPB really has been in a sick, sad kind of way because you've got...
ARNOLD: So he's now running this agency that he used to be very, very critical of. And he's saying now, OK, we're going to do going forward at this agency sort of the bare minimum. We are going to meet the requirements of the law but go, quote, "no further." And he also says that he would like to see "humility and moderation," quote, unquote, by folks at the bureau in their attempts to enforce their mission.
KELLY: And do we know what he means by humility and moderation? I mean, what he might actually be planning for the bureau?
ARNOLD: That's a little unclear, but we can look at what he's already done. So he's only been there a couple of months. Already, under Mulvaney, the bureau has dropped a new regulation to rein in payday lenders. He's dropped an investigation of another payday lender, or the bureau did while he was running it. That lender actually contributed to his campaign, interestingly. Then there's another case where he dropped this lawsuit that the bureau was bringing against what's been alleged to be this sort of loan shark online operation that was charging 950 percent interest rates. So you add this up and you're seeing a lot of cases of enforcement actions and regulations against aggressive, high-interest lenders that are basically being thrown out the window.
KELLY: Do we know why Mulvaney dropped this case?
ARNOLD: Well, interestingly, when I tried to ask that question, I was told by Mulvaney's press person that it wasn't Mulvaney who dropped the case, that in fact it was, quote, "professional career staff," the implication being, oh, well, the longtimers at the bureau just threw this out for some reason. I talked on background with a number of staffers at the CFPB and they said, no, no, no, that's absolutely not true. This decision was made not by the career professional staff. They all wanted to push ahead with this case. It's a good case. And it was Mulvaney himself who decided to throw out this lawsuit.
KELLY: What's the takeaway here, Chris, based on your reporting? The memo, what we have seen of what Mulvaney has actually done - I mean, as consumers who want our rights protected, what is the takeaway from what direction this bureau may be headed?
ARNOLD: Well, the takeaway for me is you've got this bureau that's potentially very powerful to protect the rights of consumers, and you have a lot of people who've been attracted to go there and be attorneys and try to, you know, enforce the laws and protect people. And they're very scared right now. They don't know. I mean, they've seen some of these lawsuits and investigations that they've worked on for years and years and years just get cast aside. And right now what's happening is Mick Mulvaney is one by one going through all of these ongoing lawsuits and investigations and deciding, are we going to pursue this one? Are we going to toss this one aside? And so people are kind of afraid and waiting and watching, wondering what's going to happen next.
KELLY: And, Chris, Mulvaney, we mentioned, is the interim director. He's actually got another job. He's President Trump's budget director on top of this. Do we know how long he might stick around and whether these changes might stick?
ARNOLD: That is a huge question. There are a number of consumer groups who are suing to try to tell the president, look; you can't just put in this guy, you know, as the interim. You need to appoint somebody who can go through the proper approval process. So that lawsuit's going forward. We'll know in a couple of months what's going to happen there.
KELLY: Lots of questions. NPR's Chris Arnold - thanks, Chris.
ARNOLD: Thanks, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.