Fannie Mae legal counsel Brooks joins largest cryptocurrency exchange

Fannie Mae legal counsel Brooks joins largest cryptocurrency exchange

Brian Brooks, Fannie Mae’s top lawyer and a onetime colleague of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, has been hired as chief legal counsel for Coinbase, the country’s largest cryptocurrency exchange.

Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong today announced the hiring of Brooks, who started at Fannie Mae in 2014. Brooks is a former vice chairman of OneWest, a bank formed in the wake of the housing crisis that was jointly owned and led by Mnuchin before he joined the Trump administration.

Brooks was previously considered for at least one major administration post: deputy Treasury secretary, the second-most senior position within the department. He was never formally nominated and withdrew from consideration late last year.

His record at OneWest, whose foreclosure practices after the 2008 financial crisis came under scrutiny during Mnuchin’s own confirmation process, would have been a focus of proceedings had he been nominated for the position.

Brooks also overlapped with Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting, who was OneWest’s CEO during Brooks’ tenure at the bank.

Coinbase’s Armstrong said Brooks was recruited for his experience in dealing with the government.

Given the rapid growth of cryptocurrencies, “it is more important than ever that we contribute to a public policy and regulatory environment that fosters innovation while protecting investors,” Armstrong wrote in a post. “[Brooks’] arrival is part of our effort to expand our legal, compliance and government affairs capabilities as we head into this next chapter for the company.”

Coinbase’s current chief legal and risk officer, Mike Lempres, will focus on government relations, including Coinbase’s participation in the newly formed Blockchain Association.

Coinbase, a nonpublic, San Francisco-based cryptocurrency exchange, said it generated about $1 billion in revenue last year, aided by hot markets for digital assets. Digital currencies have since plunged in value.

Brooks’s departure follows Fannie Mae’s announcement in July that CEO Timothy Mayopoulos will step down from his post at the nation’s biggest source of mortgage financing by the end of the year.

“We are extremely grateful for Brian’s four years of strong leadership, insightful counsel, and critical contributions to Fannie Mae’s transformation, and we wish he were staying,” Mayopoulos said in a statement.

He said Stephen McElhennon will serve as interim leader of Fannie Mae’s legal functions while the company conducts a search for a permanent replacement.