Wednesday, January 27th, 2010
We are currently going through the recently released Special Report by Darrell Issa: “Public Disclosure As A Last Resort:
How the Federal Reserve Fought to Cover Up the Details of the AIG Counterparties Bailout From the American People,” and a cursory perusal indicates that this could be proverbial end for Tim Geithner…and Sarah Dahlgren is, not surprisingly, mentioned rather prominently…as is Davis Polk.
We will post more comments later but this section is critical:
GEITHNER’S ROLE IN THE AIG COVER UP REMAINS UNCLEAR
When asked directly if he was involved in the efforts by the FRBNY to prevent disclosure of the AIG counterparty payments, Secretary Geithner responded, “I wasn’t involved in that decision.” On January 8, 2010, FRBNY General Counsel Thomas Baxter wrote Ranking Member Issa to clarify the role of then-President Geithner:
[M]atters relating to AIG securities law disclosures were not brought to the attention of Mr. Geithner …. In my judgment as the New York Fed’s chief legal officer, disclosure matters of this nature did not warrant the attention of the president.
Mr. Baxter reiterated this claim in an interview with Committee staff. Questions of securities disclosure, Baxter said, were “legal stuff,” and Baxter did not bring legal stuff to the attention of then-President Geithner. However, Baxter said that “on significant policy issues, of course I would go” to Geithner.
However, documents received by the Committee suggest that Secretary Geithner was, at a minimum, engaged personally in reviewing what information about the AIG bailout would be revealed to Congress and the public. On November 6, 2008, SarahDahlgren, the FRBNY’s lead staff member in AIG’s operations, e-mailed Geithner with a proposed statement regarding AIG’s upcoming equity capital raise for Geithner’s approval:
[I]n terms of saying something publicly about our intentions, we … think that saying something that conveys the following … makes sense:
It is our (Federal Reserve/Treasury) continued intention to put the company in a sound capital position and exit the facility/preferred securities/common stock ownership as soon as practicable…
[I]f you are good with this, …we would also make sure that the company sticks to this line (echo)…. [emphasis added]
On November 13, 2008, Geithner received a report on AIG’s restructuring that would be sent to Congress, which Geithner had asked to personally review. Sophia Allison, a staff member of the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors, e-mailed the draft congressional report to several Federal Reserve staff:
Attached is a draft Congressional report for the restructuring package for AIG announced on Monday, November 10. …I tried to take everything in the report from publicly available documents, such as press releases, the prior AIG Congressional Report, and AIG’s most recent 10-Q. If there is anything in the report that you believe should not be publicly disclosed, please specifically point that out. [emphasis added]
Michael Nelson, a staff member of the FRBNY, forwarded Allison’s email to Geithner with the following message:
Tim – this is the draft EESA-required filing on AIG that the Board owes the Hill, as you requested. [emphasis added]
In addition, Secretary Geithner’s meeting logs from his tenure as President of the FRBNY show that he was regularly engaged with top AIG officials and the FRBNY officials directly responsible for AIG’s disclosures to the SEC. Geithner’s schedule shows that he had at least six formal meetings with top FRBNY staff members about AIG-related issues between November 4, 2008, and November 21, 2008. It is unclear whether AIG’s disclosure obligations were discussed in these meetings.
At a minimum, the cover-up of the details about AIG’s counterparty payments began on Secretary Geithner’s watch, and the culture of the FRBNY in which this behavior occurred reflected his leadership. Secretary Geithner needs to explain his role in the cover-up, and if he thinks the behavior of his staff at the FRBNY was appropriate.
GEITHNER’S CLAIMS RAISE QUESTIONS ABOUT PURPOSE OF AIG BAILOUT
Secretary Geithner’s claim to SIGTARP that the backdoor bailout of AIG’s counterparties had nothing to do with the health of AIG’s counterparties also raises questions about why AIG was bailed out in the first place. As the Wall Street Journal notes:
[I]f Mr. Geithner now says the AIG bailout wasn’t driven by a need to rescue CDS counterparties, then what was the point? Why pay Goldman [Sachs] and even foreign banks like Societe Generale billions of tax dollars to make them whole?
Secretary Geithner now claims that the point of AIG’s bailout was to protect AIG’s insurance policy holders:
AIG was providing a range of insurance products to households across the country. And if AIG had defaulted, you would have seen a downgrade leading to the liquidation and failure of a set of insurance contracts that touched Americans across this country and, of course, savers around the world.
However, as the Wall Street Journal further explains:
Yet, if there is one thing that all observers seemed to agree on last year, it was that AIG’s money to pay policyholders was segregated and safe inside the regulated insurance subsidiaries. If the real systemic danger was the condition of these highly regulated subsidiaries – where there was no CDS trading – then the Beltway narrative implodes.
Secretary Geithner’s inconsistent statements and apparent contradictions raise important questions about the decision to not only funnel billions of taxpayer dollars to AIG’s counterparties, but also the decision to bail out AIG itself.
And, at long last, Davis Polk is accused of interference with the disclosure process
The FRBNY and its attorneys at Davis Polk interfered with AIG’s securities disclosures in several ways. They edited AIG’s SEC filings in ways that made it more difficult for investors and the public to understand the ML3 transactions. They contacted the SEC directly and pressured it to treat AIG’s filings differently from other companies’ filings. In addition, they appear to have forced AIG to cancel a compensation-related filing that it was required to make. The FRBNY’s edits of AIG’s filings and the FRBNY’s pressure on the SEC were intended to serve the Fed’s interests by obscuring embarrassing details about the FRBNY’s backdoor bailout of AIG’s counterparties. Investors cannot be protected by a disclosure system that only requires full transparency when the Federal Reserve’s embarrassment is not at stake. The special SEC procedures established via FRBNY pressure also demonstrate that bailouts lead to enforced favoritism.
Finally, the secrecy, concealment, and lack of transparency in the conduct of the Federal Reserve have serious implications for the continued health of democracy and free markets. The Federal Reserve’s payment of par to AIG’s counterparties and the subsequent cover-up of information about these payments raise concerns about the accountability of the unelected bureaucrats within the Federal Reserve System. The fact that a quasi-government agency, unaccountable to the American people, likely wasted billions of taxpayer dollars and went to great lengths to prevent Congress and the American people from learning about these actions demonstrates the threat that the Federal Reserve poses to basic principles of American democracy.
This article was posted: Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 5:18 am