Student Loan Watchdog Quits, Says Trump Administration 'Turned Its Back' On Borrowers The nation's student loan watchdog has resigned from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, arguing that its current leadership has undermined efforts to protect student borrowers.
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Student Loan Watchdog Quits, Says Trump Administration 'Turned Its Back' On Borrowers

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Student Loan Watchdog Quits, Says Trump Administration 'Turned Its Back' On Borrowers

Student Loan Watchdog Quits, Says Trump Administration 'Turned Its Back' On Borrowers

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The federal official in charge of protecting student borrowers from predatory lending practices stepped down this morning. In a scathing resignation letter, he says the Trump administration, quote, "has turned its back on young people and their financial futures."

NPR's Cory Turner broke this story and joins us now here in the studio. Hi, Cory.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Tell us more about the man who wrote this letter.

TURNER: Sure. His name is Seth Frotman. And for the past three years, he has been what's called the student loan ombudsman. The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB - the bureau was created in the wake of the financial crisis to basically protect borrowers from shady lending practices. And to be honest, the CFPB has done a lot for borrowers. And that includes Frotman and his office. All told, the CFPB has handled more than 60,000 student loan complaints. They've clawed back more than $750 million on behalf of aggrieved borrowers.

Frotman didn't begin as the ombudsman. He was actually hired at the CFPB at the very beginning by Holly Petraeus. And her job - she's now retired - was to manage the CFPB's protections for military service members. Petraeus tells NPR that she felt, quote, "privileged" to have hired Frotman as her adviser. And she says, quote, "Seth is a true public servant. I think he's leaving for the purest of motives. He wants to help student borrowers."

SHAPIRO: And in this resignation letter, he didn't just say the Trump administration turned its back on young people and their financial futures. He gave bullet points with specifics.

TURNER: (Laughter).

SHAPIRO: Tell us about some of them.

TURNER: It's a long letter, and he went through a lot of things. A few of those things are new. Several of those things I as an education reporter and my colleagues have reported on already. I'll just go through a few of them, Ari. Over the past year, the Trump administration has clearly sidelined Frotman's office for students. Last year, the U.S. Department of Education announced that it would stop sharing information with the bureau about the department's oversight of federal student loans.

And then recently in May, there was a major shakeup in Frotman's office. The Office for Students and Young Consumers (ph) - that's what it was called - was folded into the bureau's financial education office. Now, that sounds kind of tedious, but here's what it means. It was largely seen by consumer advocates as a really big, symbolic shift away from investigation.

And in terms of new things that Frotman mentions in this letter, he accuses the CFPB's leadership of suppressing a report prepared by his office revealing new evidence that some of the nation's largest banks were saddling students with legally dubious account fees.

SHAPIRO: That leadership includes Mick Mulvaney, the man who President Trump appointed to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. How much does he have to do with this?

TURNER: Well, it's hard to say. I mean, we should say Mulvaney is right now wearing many hats. He is also President Trump's budget director. So he's got his hands full. But as you say, he is also the acting director at the CFPB. More importantly, I think we need to go back to Mulvaney's life before he was a part of the Trump administration, before there was a Trump administration.

He was a well-known Republican congressman from South Carolina. And he was one of the CFPB's fiercest critics. He once called the bureau a, quote, "joke in a sick, sad kind of way," end quote. And that's because Mulvaney argued it often acted above the law and with no accountability to Congress. It's as if he really saw the CFPB as a kind of rogue arm of the government.

SHAPIRO: And what is the CFPB saying today about this very striking resignation?

TURNER: Basically nothing, Ari. After repeated requests for comment, I finally got a very short email from CFPB. And it reads in full, quote, "thanks for reaching out. Regarding your inquiry, the bureau does not comment on specific personnel matters. We hope that all of our departing employees find fulfillment in other pursuits, and we thank them for their service."

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Cory Turner. And you can read Frotman's resignation letter in full at our website npr.org. Thanks, Cory.

TURNER: You're welcome, Ari.

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