DODD, CONRAD CLEARED BY ETHICS COMMITTEE…. I imagine Sens. Dodd and Conrad are hoping today’s news gets as much attention as the reports about the initial allegations.

The Senate Ethics Committee on Friday dismissed complaints against Democratic Sens. Chris Dodd (Conn.) and Kent Conrad (N.D.) over their participation in Countrywide Financial Corp.’s VIP lending program.

But the panel cautioned the senators that they should have “exercised more vigilance” in their dealings with the mortgage giant to avoid an appearance of preferential treatment.

“While the committee finds no substantial credible evidence as required by Committee rules that your Countrywide mortgages violated Senate ethics rules, the Committee does believe that you should have exercised more vigilance in your dealings with Countrywide in order to avoid the appearance that you were receiving preferential treatment based on your status as a Senator,” the committee wrote the senators in a letter dated Aug. 7.

The committee letter is the result of a year-long investigation, in which both Democratic senators insisted they never sought favorable loan terms from Countrywide. While it seems, based on the Ethics Committee’s findings, Dodd and Conrad should have taken better care to examine their loans, that’s a far cry from the charges levied against them, specifically that they asked for a special “sweetheart” deal from the lender.

The Roll Call report added, “The letters, which note the committee reviewed 18,000 pages of documents, said Dodd and Conrad received loan rates and terms similar to those available to other borrowers with ‘comparable profiles.’”

In a statement, Dodd said, “I’m pleased and gratified that the Democrats and Republicans on the Ethics Committee have dismissed this complaint and found that the underlying accusations simply were not credible…. I’m confident the people of Connecticut will be glad to know that I’ve been cleared. But I also want them to know that I’ve learned from this experience…. I hope that today’s dismissal will go a long way towards restoring the bond of trust and confidence that I’ve worked long and hard to build with the people of our state.”

No word yet from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who has been pushing the controversy aggressively and leading the crusade against the senators.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.