By Don Miller
Despite promises of open government, the Obama administration tried to "cover up the very existence of smoking-gun documents" prepared for a meeting in which former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson allegedly coerced major banks to allow the government to take equity stakes, according to conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch.
Judicial Watch said the Treasury initially said it had no records about the meeting. It didn't release a transcript of discussions between government officials and bankers.
However, documents obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request confirm that Paulson and other Treasury officials gave nine major banks no options other than allowing the government to take $250 billion in equity.
Judicial Watch said on its Web site that after it made inquiries, the Treasury insisted on Feb. 4 it had no documents about the historic meeting.
Furthermore, "the cover-up continues, as the Obama administration protects Timothy Geithner by withholding a key document about his role in this infamous bankers meeting," Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton said in a statement.
The group says suggested edits of the "talking points" for the meeting by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, then President of the New York Federal Reserve are being withheld by the Obama administration.
Saying the nine U.S. banks were "central to any solution" of the credit crisis, Paulson told their leaders in the meeting in Washington on October 13, 2008, to take the government aid voluntarily or be forced to by regulators.
"We don't believe it is tenable to opt out because doing so would leave you vulnerable and exposed," the document said, citing Paulson talking points. "If a capital infusion is not appealing, you should be aware your regulator will require it in any circumstance."
Within four hours of the start of the meeting the CEOs wrote by hand the names of their institution and multibillion dollar amounts of "preferred shares" to be issued to the government, the documents show.
"These documents show our government exercising unrestrained power over the private sector," Fitton said in a statement.
The banks were represented by Vikram Pandit of Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C), Kenneth Lewis of Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC), John Thain of Merrill Lynch & Co., now part of BofA, Jaime Dimon of JP Morgan & Co. (NYSE: JPM), Richard Kovacevich of Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC), John Mack of Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS), Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE: GS), Robert Kelly of Bank of New York Mellon Corp (NYSE: BK), and Ronald Logue of State Street Corp. (NYSE: STT).
A spokesman for the Treasury, Andrew Williams, didn't return calls seeking comment from Bloomberg News.
The Treasury has invested $199.1 billion in the bank-preferred share program, with $1.2 billion since returned by 12 institutions, according to government data, Bloomberg reported.
Despite his heavy-handed nature, Paulson succeeded at stabilizing the financial services industry, J.P. O'Sullivan, an SNL Financial bank analyst in Charlottesville, Va., told Bloomberg.
"It was a calming mechanism," O'Sullivan said.
This isn't the first time Paulson has been accused of strong-arming bankers to bend to his will.
As previously reported in Money Morning, Bank of America CEO Kenneth Lewis said in testimony before New York's attorney general that Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke pressured him not only to move ahead with a merger with Merrill Lynch despite reservations, but also to stay quiet about the mounting losses at the crumbling investment bank.
Lewis went on to testify that he felt Paulson threatened him with losing his job if he didn't go along with completing the Merrill Lynch deal.
"I can't recall if he said, 'We would remove the board and management if you called it [off]' or if he said 'we would do it if you intended to.' I don't remember which one it was," Mr. Lewis said.
News and Related Story Links:
Judicial Watch Forces Release of Bank Bailout Documents