Elizabeth Warren Says Powell ‘Failed’ as Leader Over Fed Trading Scandal
(Bloomberg) -- Senator Elizabeth Warren said revelations about investment transactions last year by Federal Reserve officials call into question Jerome Powell’s leadership of the U.S. central bank.
“For Fed officials to actively trade in the market raises legitimate questions about conflicts of interest and insider trading,” the Massachusetts Democrat said Tuesday during a Senate speech. “These Fed officials actually show, at a minimum, really bad judgment.”
The central bank is under fire following revelations about unusual trading activity by some senior officials in 2020 as the central bank fought to shelter the U.S. economy from Covid-19.
Warren, who has publicly opposed Powell’s renomination as Fed chief when his term expires in February, said he had “failed as a leader.”
She repeated her opposition in an interview later Tuesday on Bloomberg Television with David Westin, citing Powell’s record of loosening financial regulation. But Warren declined to say if she’d back Lael Brainard, the only Democrat currently on the Fed Board in Washington, for the job.
“My view is: he ends his term, we put somebody else in place,” said Warren, a member of the Senate Banking Committee which approves Fed nominees before they go to the Senate floor for a vote. “I think the Fed will be better off and our economy will be safer.”
President Joe Biden, who is expected to make a decision about the Fed chair succession this fall, retains confidence in Powell in the wake of the Warren broadside, according to the White House.
“Yes, he does have confidence in Powell at this time,” a White House deputy press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, told reporters traveling with Biden aboard Air Force One.
Another member of the Senate Banking panel, Georgia Senator Jon Ossoff, said there “must be a congressional investigation” of the trading. He said his support for a Powell renomination depends on “the quality of the Federal Reserve’s response to this issue and their cooperation with congressional investigations.”
Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, a Republican, said he didn’t see anything in the trading that he would characterize as Powell’s fault, but called for a reassessment of guidelines. He added that he’s not “very enthusiastic” about stock trading bans.
“I think transparency and disclosures are all sensible and I think that people should always strive to avoid the appearance of creating a conflict,” he said.
A Federal Reserve spokeswoman declined to comment.
Warren called Monday for the Securities Exchange Commission to investigate whether the transactions violated insider trading rules, citing an Oct. 1 Bloomberg News report about trading by Vice Chair Richard Clarida in his 2020 financial disclosures.
Separately, two regional Fed presidents recently announced their departures after revelations about their trading activity last year.
Powell had already opened an internal examination of the central bank’s ethics rules. The Fed said Monday that Powell has asked its inspector general to conduct a review of the trades to make sure they were in compliance with Fed rules and the law.
Clarida traded between $1 million and $5 million out of a bond fund into stock funds on Feb. 27, 2020, one day before Powell issued a statement flagging possible policy action as the pandemic worsened. The Fed announced a half percentage-point rate cut on March 3 following an emergency meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee.
Eric Rosengren and Robert Kaplan, presidents of the Fed branches in Boston and Dallas, announced their resignations Sept. 27 following disclosures about trading last year. Rosengren cited a serious health condition in announcing his early retirement.
Kaplan disclosed multiple trades of over $1 million during 2020. Rosengren transacted in real estate investment trusts, including some that invested in mortgage securities that the Fed started buying in 2020, which also raised questions.
Warren said during her speech from the Senate floor that the transactions “suggest that some Fed officials believe that building up their own personal wealth is more important than strengthening the American people’s confidence in the Fed.”
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