Trump official clashes with lawmakers over consumer protections
Mick Mulvaney (CBS/screen grab)

The head of a US financial watchdog clashed Thursday with Democratic lawmakers who accused him of attempting to gut an agency meant to fight consumer fraud and abuse.

Mick Mulvaney, who also serves as President Donald Trump's budget director, told a Senate panel the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was too powerful and unaccountable.

"I'm not seeking to undermine the mission of the bureau," Mulvaney told the Senate Banking Committee. "But there's no reason for this bureau to be a black hole in order to conduct that mission."

Long in the crosshairs of Republicans and industry groups, the CFPB was a pillar of the reforms enacted in 2010 in response to the global financial crisis.

It is meant to protect consumers from abuses by banks, credit card companies, insurers and other financial services companies but Mulvaney, who once described the agency as a "joke," has called for Congress to rein it in.

"We have over 100 investigations ongoing right now," Mulvaney said. "We have continued to enforce the law."

But since taking office he instituted a hiring freeze, has taken no new enforcement actions and attracted harsh scrutiny for raising the pay of political appointees. He also scaled back an investigation into disgraced consumer credit bureau Equifax.

The hearing included a confrontation with Senator Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat who helped create the CFPB.

Warren pointed out that while serving in Congress, Mulvaney repeatedly voted to curtail financial regulation and abolish the CFPB.

She defended the agency which she said returned billions to students, military personnel, 9/11 first responders and others who had been victimized by financial fraud and abuse.

"Since you got to the agency you have announced that you won't use the exact enforcement tool that CFPB used to stop every single scam that I've mentioned today," Warren said.

"You've taken obvious joy in talking about how the agency will help banks a lot more than it will help consumers and how upset this must make me," she added.

"You are hurting real people to score cheap political points."

In a sign of the heat the subject has generated, a protester dressed as Rich Uncle Moneybags, the mustachioed mascot for the board game Monopoly, sat behind Mulvaney, mugging for the cameras during the testimony.