Tony West, the associate attorney general who brokered nearly $37 billion in government financial settlements with Wall Street banks over the mortgage-fraud issues that helped spark the financial crisis, says an unexpected phone call from Jamie Dimon in 2013 proved a key moment in the process.
During his first television interview since announcing his planned departure as the Justice Department's third-highest ranking official on Sept. 15, West recalled his conversation with Dimon during a particularly rough patch before JPMorgan's $13 billion settlement last November.
"I was on my way in to work, and we were going to announce a lawsuit against JPMorgan that morning," said West from a conference room in Justice's Washington headquarters late Tuesday. "My cell phone rang and it was Jamie Dimon."
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Dimon, then trying to fend off government litigation to avoid a costly and embarrassing public row, argued that high-level negotiations were in order, West said. "He just said, 'Hey, listen, we've never met, but I think when the stakes are this high, it's always important for the principles to talk.'" Dimon's call ultimately led to a meeting with Attorney General Eric Holder and West, and a discussion that smoothed the path toward the final deal.
West, who oversaw the Justice Department's civil unit, among other duties, said he was proud of the office's accomplishments in landing record settlement agreements and bringing some closure to troubled American homeowners.
"What we've seen is not just a high dollar number," he said, but also "a measure of accountability." Steps that banks like JPMorgan, Citigroup, and Bank of America must take as part of their multibillion dollar mortgage-securities fraud settlements with Justice, including writing down mortgages, will help families whose mortgages exceed their market values to stay in their homes, he added. "Consumers are finally going to get a bit of relief from the pain of the financial crisis."