Just a few weeks after Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) requested information from Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner about White House plans to sidestep executive pay limits for bailed out firms (information that still hasn’t been provided), Towns is asking Geithner about his role in Bank of America’s reportedly shady acquisition of Merrill Lynch in December.
Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that BofA chief executive Ken Lewis told New York’s attorney general in February that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson told Lewis to keep mum about Merrill’s steep losses at the end of 2008, as well as $4 billion in bonuses Merrill intended to pay employees, lest the news spook BofA shareholders and kill the acquisition deal.
Geithner, of course, was neck deep in crafting the bailout strategies under the Bush administration, and now Towns, who heads the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has joined forces with Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who chairs the Domestic Policy subpanel, to ask what role Geithner played in the controversial BofA-Merrill deal.
From the lawmakers’ April 23 letter to Geithner:
If Mr. Lewis’s statement, as reported by the Journal, of discussions that occurred between Mr. Paulson, Mr. Bernanke and himself is accurate, then federal officials were potentially involved in knowingly denying BOA investors material information.
The lawmakers are asking Geithner for “all documents prepared for internal use related to discussions with Bank of America and/or Treasury about compensation packages, bonuses, annual losses at Merrill Lynch, and federal guarantees against losses on Merrill Lynch assets, for the period August I, 2008 through January 19,2009,” as well as “discussions relating to public disclosure of information about compensation packages, bonuses, and annual losses at Merrill Lynch.”
A similar version of the letter went to Bernanke. And unlike the first inquiry over executive compensation limits — which Geithner still hasn’t responded to, even eight days after the requested deadline – Towns and Kucinich are threatening to subpoena the officials for the information if they don’t get it otherwise.
The implications of Mr. Lewis’ testimony, if accurate, are extremely serious. Under these circumstances failure to comply with the Subcommittee’s request raises the prospect that we will be forced to consider compulsory means to achieve compliance with our request. However, we would prefer your voluntary compliance.
Guess the Obama honeymoon is officially over.