Employees dish on the chaos gripping America's top consumer watchdog agency amid a dramatic showdown with Trump

  • Officials at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau described to Business Insider the state of the agency amid a conflict between its former director and the Trump administration over who is leading it.
  • Some officials said the former director, Richard Cordray, was correct in naming his successor.
  • Others said Cordray pulled a political stunt, already knowing he did not possess the proper authority to supersede the president’s pick.

Officials at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau say they’re confused, worried about their employment, and uncertain about the future after a messy battle between the Trump administration and the agency’s recently departed director, Richard Cordray, led to two people claiming to be its acting director.

Some officials told Business Insider that Cordray had the proper authority to name his deputy, Leandra English, as his successor. But others said Cordray overstepped and pulled a political stunt on his way out the door, making a manoeuvre that the CFPB’s general counsel had alerted him would not supersede the president’s authority to name a successor.

The skirmish over the acting director role centres 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 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 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 planned, named English as his successor.

Trump soon followed suit by naming Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, as the acting director until a Senate-confirmed nominee can take over.

English then filed a lawsuit in federal court on Sunday in which she called herself the “rightful acting director” and sought a temporary restraining order to prevent Mulvaney from fulfilling Trump’s appointment. On Tuesday, a judge ruled in favour of the Trump administration.

But the debate is still playing out among the CFPB rank and file, with some acknowledging the president has the power to usurp Dodd-Frank – which says the bureau’s deputy director shall “serve as acting director in the absence or unavailability of the director” – while others remain convinced that English 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 organisation a ‘sick joke’ might do at the helm of the organisation,” one CFPB official said, referring 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 install Mulvaney 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 organisation that was intended to be a nonpartisan organisation charged with the important mission of protecting consumers being dragged into a political fight,” they said. “The CFPB has consistently been characterised as partisan when, I would argue, our record – and mission – is not.”

Another official said they had been “very worried” that on Monday the bureau would be divided over 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.”

Senior leadership at the bureau “unanimously” complied with the president’s pick, the official said.

In his first day at the agency, Mulvaney held a defiant press conference during which he promised to institute a 30-day freeze on hiring and on new rules.

Though he said he wouldn’t “blow it up,” Mulvaney had few good things to say about the 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 Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Capitol Hill on Monday.

“Only in Washington could you get sued for actually showing up for work,” he said of English’s lawsuit.

“I don’t know if a no-call, no-show for one day justifies termination,” he added, noting that English did not show up at the agency on Monday. “We’ll have to find out. Look, we expect people to work.”

The two had fired off dueling emails, each signed as “acting director.” Mulvaney, who brought doughnuts on Monday, wrote that staffers should disregard any instructions from English related to “her actual or presumed official duties.”

“Leandra didn’t think to bring doughnuts,” an official told Business Insider jokingly. “As far as I know, with little flares here and there, everyone is sort of trying to make it work.”

Another official said employees were “absolutely” aware of what was 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, who the official said was not likely to be forced out, because of 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.

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