James Johnson, Former Fannie Mae Chief, Dead at 76

October 22, 2020

James A Johnson

James A. Johnson

James Johnson, who headed secondary mortgage market agency Fannie Mae from 1991 to 1998, died Sunday from complications from a neurological disease. He was 76.

Johnson led Fannie Mae to record profits and, for many years, was considered the ultimate Washington insider. While at Fannie Mae, he simultaneously chaired the Brookings Institution and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. At Fannie, he championed expanding homeownership opportunities to more Americans—a goal that’s once again top of mind as the nation grapples with issues of racial equity.

An adept political hand who never ran for office but who worked on several unsuccessful Democratic presidential campaigns, Johnson fended off efforts at congressional oversight during his tenure at Fannie Mae. Critics say he encouraged practices that led to the 2008 financial crisis. The New York Times reports that Johnson brushed aside those criticisms. In a 2016 oral history, the Times says, he focused instead on how Fannie Mae had worked to bring the American dream of homeownership to low-income families, immigrants, and young people.