• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

ONE WEEK TO DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!

A generous supporter has offered a $25,000 matching grant. So for this week only, whatever you can donate will be doubled up to $25,000! If you have the means, please donate! If you already have done so, thank you for your support. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Interrogation of Lloyd Blankfein

Tuesday’s hearings of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations laid the groundwork for future criminal prosecutions of Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein and his chief lieutenants whose reckless and self-serving actions helped to precipitate the financial crisis. Committee chairman Senator Carl Levin (a former prosecutor) adroitly managed the proceedings in a way that narrowed their scope and focused on four main areas of concern. Through persistent questioning, which bordered on hectoring, Levin was able to prove his central thesis:

1. That Goldman puts its own interests before those of its clients.

2. That Goldman knowingly misled it clients and sold them “crap” that it was betting against.

3. That Goldman made billions trading securities that pumped up the housing bubble.

4. That Goldman made money trading securities that triggered a market crash and led to the deepest recession in 80 years.

The hearings lasted for 8 hours and included interviews with seven Goldman executives. Every senator had the opportunity to make a statement and question the Goldman employees. But the day belonged to Carl Levin. Levin was well-prepared, articulate and relentless. He had a game-plan and he stuck to it. He peppered Goldman’s Blankfein with question after question like a prosecuting attorney cross-examining a witness. He never let up and never veered off topic. He knew what he wanted to achieve and he succeeded. Here’s a clip from his opening statement:

“The evidence shows that Goldman repeatedly put its own interests and profits ahead of the interests of its clients and our communities…..It profited by taking advantage of its clients’ reasonable expectation that it would not sell products that it didn’t want to succeed….

Goldman’s actions demonstrate that it often saw its clients not as valuable customers, but as objects for its own profit….Goldman documents make clear that in 2007 it was betting heavily against the housing market while it was selling investments in that market to its clients. It sold those clients high-risk mortgage-backed securities and CDOs that it wanted to get off its books in transactions that created a conflict of interest between Goldman’s bottom line and its clients’ interests.” (Senator Carl Levin’s opening statement for the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations)

Levin’s entire statement is worth reading, but these two paragraphs distill his plan for exposing Goldman. He was determined to “go small” and repeat the same points over and over again. And it worked. From a purely strategic point of view, Levin’s battleplan was flawless. The Goldman execs never knew what hit them. They swaggered into the chamber thinking they’d breeze through the hearings and have a few laughs over cocktails afterwards, and left with their heads in their hands. They were outmatched and outmaneuvered.

Senator Carl Levin:

“These findings are deeply troubling. They show a Wall Street culture that, while it may once have focused on serving clients and promoting commerce, is now all too often simply self-serving. The ultimate harm here is not just to clients poorly served by their investment bank. It’s to all of us. The toxic mortgages and related instruments that these firms injected into our financial system have done incalculable harm to people who had never heard of a mortgage-backed security or a CDO, and who have no defenses against the harm such exotic Wall Street creations can cause….

These facts end the pretense that Goldman’s actions were part of its efforts to operate as a mere “market-maker,” bringing buyers and sellers together. These short positions didn’t represent customer service or necessary hedges against risks that Goldman incurred as it made a market for customers. They represented major bets that the mortgage securities market – a market Goldman helped create – was in for a major decline. Goldman continues to deny that it shorted the mortgage market for profit, despite the evidence…

The firm cannot successfully continue to portray itself as working on behalf of its clients if it was selling mortgage related products to those clients while it was betting its own money against those same products or the mortgage market as a whole. The scope of this conflict is reflected in an internal company email sent on May 17, 2007, discussing the collapse of two mortgage-related instruments, tied to WaMu-issued mortgages, that Goldman helped assemble and sell. The “bad news,” a Goldman employee says, is that the firm lost $2.5 million on the collapse. But the “good news,” he reports, is that the company had bet that the securities would collapse, and made $5 million on that bet. They lost money on the mortgage related products they still held, and of course the clients they sold these products to lost big time. But Goldman Sachs also made out big time in its bet against its own products and its own clients.” (Sen. Carl Levin)

Levin had all the facts at his fingertips and put them to good use. Goldman’s execs were on their heels from the start and never really regained their footing. Even worse, the hearings showed that Goldman cannot be trusted. Their reputation is in ruins. Levin proved that if Goldman has junk in its portfolio, it won’t hesitate to dump it on its clients and then pass around high-fives at the prop-desk. Here’s a typical exchange between Levin and the former head of Goldman’s mortgage department, Dan Sparks:

SEN. CARL LEVIN: June 22 is the date of this e-mail. “Boy, that Timberwolf was one shitty deal.” How much of that “shitty deal” did you sell to your clients after June 22, 2007?

DAN SPARKS: Mr. Chairman, I don’t know the answer to that. But the price would have reflected levels that they wanted to invest…

SEN. CARL LEVIN: Oh, of course.

DAN SPARKS: … at that time.

SEN. CARL LEVIN: But you didn’t tell them you thought it was a shitty deal.

DAN SPARKS: Well, I didn’t say that.

SEN. CARL LEVIN: Who did? Your people, internally. You knew it was a shitty deal, and that’s what your…

DAN SPARKS: I think the context, the message that I took from the e-mail from Mr. Montag, was that my performance on that deal wasn’t good.

SEN. CARL LEVIN: How about the fact that you sold hundreds of millions of that deal after your people knew it was a shitty deal? Does that bother you at all; you sold the customers something?

DAN SPARKS: I don’t recall selling hundreds of millions of that deal after that.

Levin was just as tough on Blankfein, reiterating the same question over and over again: “Is there not a conflict when you sell something to somebody, and then you bet against that same security, and you don’t disclose that to the person you’re selling it to? Do you see a problem?”

At first, Blankfein acted like he’d never considered the question before, as if “putting himself in his client’s shoes” was something that never even entered his mind. His look of utter bewilderment was revealing. Then he launched into the excuses, the evasions, and the elaborate, long-winded ruminations that one expects from schoolboys and hucksters. But Levin never gave and inch. He kept pushing until Blankfein finally gave up and responded.

“No,” he stammered, “In the context of market-making that’s not a conflict.”

Blankfein’s answer was a triumph for Levin, and he knew it. To the millions of people watching the sequence on TV, Blankfein’s denial was as good as an admission of guilt. It showed that Wall Street kingpins don’t share the same morals as everyone else. In fact, Blankfein seemed genuinely confused that morality would even be an issue. After all, it wasn’t for him.

Levin covered some old ground, pointing to Goldman’s dealings with Washington Mutual’s Long Beach unit which was a “conveyor belt” for garbage subprimes which frequently blew up just months after they were issued. It’s clear that Goldman knew the mortgages were junk that were “polluting the financial system”, but that made no difference. Goldman feels that it’s responsible to its shareholders alone, not the people who bailed it out.

All in all, it was a bad day for the holding company that’s come to embody everything that’s wrong with Wall Street. Goldman entered the hearings as the most successful financial institution in the country, and left with its reputation in tatters and its future uncertain. Its CEO came across as shifty and jesuitical while his executives seemed arrogant and uncooperative. At no point during the hearings did any of the Goldman throng look at ease with themselves or their answers. They remained rigid and sullen throughout. On top of that, they were unable to defend themselves against the main charge, that they don’t mind sticking it to their clients if it means a bigger slice of the pie for themselves.

The truth is, the Golden boys were handled quite capably by an elderly statesman who took them to the woodshed and gave them a good hiding. Levin’s stunning performance is likely to draw attention to the upcoming SEC proceedings and, hopefully, build momentum for more subpoenas, indictments, arrests, and long prison sentences.

MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state and cvan be reached at fergiewhitney@msn.com

 

WORDS THAT STICK

 

More articles by:

MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at fergiewhitney@msn.com.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
October 15, 2019
Victor Grossman
The Berlin Wall, Thirty Years Later
Raouf Halaby
Kurdish Massacres: One of Britain’s Many Original Sins
Robert Fisk
Trump and Erdogan have Much in Common – and the Kurds will be the Tragic Victims of Their Idiocy
Ron Jacobs
Betrayal in the Levant
Wilma Salgado
Ecuador: Lenin Moreno’s Government Sacrifices the Poor to Satisfy the IMF
Ralph Nader
The Congress Has to Draw the Line
William A. Cohn
The Don Fought the Law…
John W. Whitehead
One Man Against the Monster: John Lennon vs. the Deep State
Lara Merling – Leo Baunach
Sovereign Debt Restructuring: Not Falling Prey to Vultures
Norman Solomon
The More Joe Biden Stumbles, the More Corporate Democrats Freak Out
Jim Britell
The Problem With Partnerships and Roundtables
Howard Lisnoff
More Incitement to Violence by Trump’s Fellow Travelers
Binoy Kampmark
University Woes: the Managerial Class Gets Uppity
Joe Emersberger
Media Smears, Political Persecution Set the Stage for Austerity and the Backlash Against It in Ecuador
Thomas Mountain
Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed Wins Nobel Peace Prize, But It Takes Two to Make Peace
Wim Laven
Citizens Must Remove Trump From Office
October 14, 2019
Ann Robertson - Bill Leumer
Class Struggle is Still the Issue
Mike Miller
Global Climate Strike: From Protest To Power?
Patrick Cockburn
As Turkey Prepares to Slice Through Syria, the US has Cleared a New Breeding Ground for Isis
John Feffer
Trump’s Undeclared State of Emergency
Dean Baker
The Economics and Politics of Financial Transactions Taxes and Wealth Taxes
Jonah Raskin
What Evil Empire?
Nino Pagliccia
The Apotheosis of Emperors
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A Passion for Writing
Basav Sen
The Oil Despots
Brett Wilkins
‘No Friend But the Mountains’: A History of US Betrayal of the Kurds
John Kendall Hawkins
Assange: Enema of the State
Scott Owen
Truth, Justice and Life
Thomas Knapp
“The Grid” is the Problem, Not the Solution
Rob Kall
Republicans Are Going to Remove Trump Soon
Cesar Chelala
Lebanon, Dreamland
Weekend Edition
October 11, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Becky Grant
CounterPunch in Peril?
Anthony DiMaggio
Fake News in Trump’s America
Andrew Levine
Trump’s End Days
Jeffrey St. Clair
High Plains Grifter: the Life and Crimes of George W. Bush
Patrick Cockburn
Kurdish Fighters Always Feared Trump Would be a Treacherous Ally
Paul Street
On the TrumpenLeft and False Equivalence
Dave Lindorff
Sure Trump is ‘Betraying the Kurds!’ But What’s New about That?
Rob Urie
Democrats Impeach Joe Biden, Fiddle as the Planet Burns
Sam Pizzigati
Inequality is Literally Killing Us
Jill Richardson
What Life on the Margins Feels Like
Mitchell Zimmerman
IMPOTUS: Droit de seigneur at Mar-a-Lago
Robert Hunziker
Methane SOS
Lawrence Davidson
Donald Trump, the Christian Warrior
William Hartung – Mandy Smithburger
The Pentagon is Pledging to Reform Itself, Again. It Won’t.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail