CFPB’s ‘Wizard of Oz’ Puts Trump Plans into PracticeOctober 21, 2018
WASHINGTON—Brian Johnson spent years as a congressional aide organizing Republican attacks on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Now, he is its No. 2 official, playing a central role in the Trump administration’s reshaping of the consumer-finance regulator.
Mr. Johnson, the CFPB’s acting deputy director, has served as acting Director Mick Mulvaney’s top aide. He is expected to stay on after Mr. Mulvaney leaves and support Kathy Kraninger, President Trump’s pick to be the bureau’s permanent director, who has little consumer finance experience.
Ms. Kraninger’s nomination is awaiting a final Senate vote. Its timing is uncertain, especially given the potential for disruption in Washington following November’s midterm elections.
Meanwhile, that makes Mr. Johnson, 38 years old, even more important; Mr. Mulvaney is also the White House’s budget chief, holding two jobs at once.
“Everyone’s eyes are on Mulvaney and Kraninger but it’s Brian Johnson who is pulling the levers behind the curtain,” said Karl Frisch, executive director of Allied Progress, a consumer-advocacy group critical of the Trump administration. “He is kind of the Wizard of Oz.”
That is cause for alarm among those who oppose administration attempts to remake the agency. Democrats have criticized Mr. Mulvaney for bringing in “hand-selected political appointees” without subjecting them to a competitive process, and questioned raises for Mr. Johnson and others.
Current and former CFPB employees say Mr. Mulvaney has given Mr. Johnson and other political hires leeway to make decisions without consulting senior career staffers hired during the Obama administration.
Seth Frotman, the CFPB’s former student loan ombudsman, told Mr. Mulvaney in an August resignation letter, “The bureau’s new political leadership has repeatedly undercut and undermined career CFPB staff working to secure relief for consumers.“
Mr. Johnson said in a written statement that it was up to Ms. Kraninger to form her team, and that he and his colleagues would do their best to support her. “I love working on policy. I’d be thrilled to continue in some capacity working for her,” he said.
Mr. Johnson, an advocate for smaller government, has helped Mr. Mulvaney undertake a review of the CFPB and implement policy changes, including a revamp of enforcement practices and a review of how the agency oversees financial companies. A former top aide to House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R., Texas), Mr. Johnson was Mr. Mulvaney’s first hire in November when he took over the CFPB, which was created by the Obama administration after the financial crisis.
Mr. Johnson also worked for the Trump transition team after the 2016 election, helping shape early administration views on the CFPB and financial-services policy.
From his perch at a standing desk in…