Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis took a pounding Thursday from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. One of the most damning exchanges occurred between Lewis and Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), when Kucinich exposed Lewis' request for government cover from shareholder lawsuits stemming from BofA's troubled merger with Merrill Lynch.
Prior to the merger, according to Kucinich, Lewis requested a letter from New York Fed chairman Ben Bernanke and then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson declaring that the government had ordered him to acquire Merrill's losses. Kucinich presented e-mails from Bernanke and his general counsel contradicting Lewis' own claim that his lawyers didn't think disclosure of Merrill losses to his shareholders before the merger was necessary.
"'I don't think it's necessary or appropriate for us to give Mr. Lewis a letter along the lines he asked,'" Kucinich read from the general counsel's e-mail.
"Is it still your testimony that you don't recall asking for a letter to absolve you of your responsibility for acquiring Merrill Lynch's huge losses?" Kucinich asked Lewis.
After being shown the letters contradicting the testimony he had just given, the visibly anxious Lewis changed his testimony from, "I don't recall such a letter" to "What I do remember is calling Chairman Bernanke and asking him if he could give us something in writing along the lines of what the solution would be."
"We're now updating Mr. Lewis' previous testimony," Kucinich said. "That may help you escape perjury but it doesn't get away from the question of whether or not you were trying to absolve yourself of responsibility for acquiring Merrill Lynch's huge losses."
His having sought exculpation from Bernanke, Kucinich said, strengthens the case that Lewis violated securities law. "We would hope that a CEO would have both the good memory and the integrity to take responsibility for his decisions," Kucinich said, shortly before launching into a fiery finale:
"You are pretending that you didn't ask for help from the government to take the burden off your back, that you didn't ask for a letter. You're going to have to excuse me, but this is not credible. You're trying to change the scenario [to] you as a victim [from] you as a powerful CEO who made a decision that denied your stockholders, your shareholders material information that they needed prior to a vote on a merger, and I think that is the central point of this hearing, and I'm sorry that you haven't been forthcoming enough about that central point. Yield back."
(American News Project)