Williams & Connolly offices in Washington, D.C. Photo by Diego M. Radzinschi/ THE NATIONAL LAW JOURNAL

A former Williams & Connolly associate was named a senior adviser at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau this month, a hire that came as White House budget director Mick Mulvaney implements leadership changes even as his role as interim head of the agency is challenged in court.

Eric Blankenstein had been an associate at the Washington firm for more than eight years before joining the U.S. Trade Representative office in September. Until that month, he had been litigating against the CFPB in one of the agency’s biggest pending enforcement matters—a case alleging that TCF National Bank tricked consumers into signing up for overdraft services.

Blankenstein joined the bank’s defense team in February alongside Williams & Connolly partners Edward Bennett and John Villa. Also on TCF National Bank’s defense team is Andrew Sandler, a partner at Buckley Sandler who has been named as a possible pick to lead the CFPB in a permanent capacity.

It is unclear what role Blankenstein played in the TCF case, which is pending in Minnesota federal district court. The only filings attached to his name are motions requesting permission to be temporarily admitted to practice in Minnesota federal court, followed by a withdrawal from the case dated Sept. 1.

Blankenstein’s move to the CFPB was reported Thursday by The Intercept. Brian Johnson, a former policy director for the House Financial Services Committee, and aides of Mulvaney’s at the Office of Management and Budget, will be on detail to the CFPB.

At the U.S. trade office, Blankenstein was an assistant general counsel participating in dispute settlements at the World Trade Organization, according to LinkedIn. Another Williams & Connolly lawyer, Curtis Mahoney, was nominated in July by the Trump White House for a deputy U.S. trade representative post.

Mulvaney’s team is reviewing the CFPB’s pending investigations and cases, and the agency already has suspended at least one investigation.

The CFPB filed its case against TCF National Bank on Jan. 19, alleging the bank used misleading tactics to enroll consumers in overdraft services.

“‎TCF bulldozed its way through protections against automatic overdraft enrollment and then celebrated its unusual sign-up success,” then-CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a statement. “With today’s action, we are standing up for consumers’ right to understand and choose what services they receive.”

Mulvaney is bringing on staff members as the CFPB’s deputy director, Leandra English, challenges his appointment in court. A hearing is set for Friday morning on English’s request for a preliminary injunction. A ruling against Mulvaney would prevent him from continuing to serve as the agency’s temporary leader.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly of the District of Columbia, a Trump appointee confirmed in September, last month denied English’s earlier request for a temporary restraining order to block Mulvaney’s appointment.

 

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