Matt Taibbi called out CNBC anchor Larry Kudlow for claiming that banks' rigging of a key interest rate did not hurt anyone.
"I can’t imagine how he [Kudlow] could possibly -- a sane person could possibly -- describe this as a victimless crime," Taibbi told "Democracy Now!" on Thursday. "Even the tiniest manipulation downward, when you’re talking about a thing of this scale, would result in tens of trillions of dollars of losses."
"It's an enormous scandal," said Taibbi, the Rolling Stone contributing editor who infamously dubbed Goldman Sachs the vampire squid. "It eclipses anything we've seen since 2008."
Sixteen major banks, including Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and Citigroup, are under investigation for allegedly rigging the Libor, a benchmark interest rate that banks set and use to lend money to each other. It is the basis for hundreds of trillions of dollars' worth of loans and derivatives and its manipulation possibly cost some cities and states millions of dollars.
Taibbi said in the "Democracy Now!" interview that ordinary Americans are victims of the Libor scandal because lower interest rates probably contributed to forcing state and local governments to slash spending.
"If you live in a town that had a budget crisis, that had to lay off firemen or teachers or policemen, or couldn’t provide services or textbooks in their schools, you know, that might be due to this," Taibbi said. "Basically, every city and town in America, to say nothing of the rest of the world, has investments that are pegged to Libor."
Kudlow dismissed the Libor scandal on his CNBC show on Tuesday, claiming that when banks manipulated Libor lower, those reduced rates benefited ordinary people.
"All those mortgages, I happen to have one, that float against Libor, benefited. Homeowners benefited. I daresay probably state and local governments benefited," Kudlow said.
Kudlow even said that Barclays, which agreed to pay more than $450 million last month to settle charges that it had rigged the Libor rate, was the victim.
"Maybe you're right, the victim was the lender, that was Barclays," Kudlow said. "The Justice Department says this could be a criminal prosecution. I don't get that. Who are the victims? Who are the victims?"
Taibbi acknowledged that Americans "probably benefited" on their mortgages and credit cards when banks manipulated the Libor rate downward. But even then, banks sometimes manipulated Libor upward "to capitalize on particular trades," which would have made some interest rates higher than they should have been, Taibbi said.
Here are 16 banks involved in the Libor scandal:
The UK bank has been at the centre of a very public storm since U.S. and British authorities fined it more than $450 million last month for its part in manipulating Libor. The ensuing backlash cost chief executive Bob Diamond and chairman Marcus Agius their jobs. The pair have appeared before a parliamentary committee to testify about what went on at the bank, in a scandal which has drawn in British central bankers and government ministers.
BANK OF AMERICA
Bank of America is among the banks being investigated, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters last year. The bank did not comment in its 2011 annual report. It is one of 11 banks accused of conspiring to manipulate Libor in two lawsuits filed by discount brokerage and money manager Charles Schwab.
The Swiss Competition Commission said in February that Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ was among those it was investigating on suspicion of conspiring to manipulate rates. The Japanese bank did not comment on any probes in its 2011 annual report. This month, the group suspended two London-based traders as a result of a probe into manipulating interbank lending rates, but the bank said that was not to do with their conduct at BTMU. They had previously worked at Dutch lender Rabobank.
Citigroup said its subsidiaries had received requests for information and documents as part of investigations in various jurisdictions. The U.S. bank said it was cooperating. The bank is also subject to a number of private lawsuits filed in the U.S. against banks that served on the Libor panel. In December, Japan's financial regulator said it would penalise the Japan securities units of Citigroup and UBS after finding that an individual who worked at UBS and then moved to Citi had, along with his boss at Citi, attempted to influence the Tokyo interbank offered rate (Tibor).
Credit Suisse is one of 12 banks being investigated by the Swiss Competition Commission about alleged collusive behaviour among traders to influence the bid ask spread for derivatives tied to Libor and Tibor as well as the rates themselves. Credit Suisse said it was cooperating fully.
The German bank said it was cooperating with investigations in the United States and Europe in connection with setting rates between 2005 and 2011. It has had civil actions filed against it in the United States related to the setting of Libor. Germany's market regulator has launched a probe into the bank over suspected manipulation of interbank lending rates, sources have said. Results are expected in mid-July. German magazine Der Spiegel reported, citing no sources, that two Deutsche Bank employees have been suspended after external auditors examined whether staff were involved in manipulating rates.
Lloyds said it was cooperating with investigations. It has also been named in private lawsuits in the U.S. related to the setting of Libor. It said it 2011 annual report that it could not predict the ultimate outcome of investigations or lawsuits. In May, the bank said two derivatives traders had been suspended following an investigation into possible interest rate manipulation.
HSBC has said it received demands from regulators for information in connection with Libor investigations and it was cooperating. It has also been named in lawsuits related to Libor in the United States. HSBC said in its 2011 annual report that it could not predict the outcome of the investigations and lawsuits.
The bank, now a subsidiary of Lloyds, said it was cooperating with investigations. It has also been named in private U.S. lawsuits related to the setting of Libor. HBOS said it in its 2011 annual report it was not possible to predict the scope, outcome or impact of the investigations and lawsuits.
JPMorgan said it was cooperating with regulators and government bodies investigating the setting of Libor, Euribor and Tibor rates, mainly in 2007 and 2008. It has also been named as a defendant in private U.S. lawsuits over Libor.
Rabobank said it was cooperating with investigations into possible manipulation of Libor rates. It has also been named as a defendant in a number of civil lawsuits in the United States. Rabobank said it was confident the claims would be held unfounded and was conducting its defence as such.
Canada's largest bank did not make any comment in its 2011 annual report on its involvement in regulatory probes into possible manipulation of interbank lending rates.
Royal Bank of Scotland said it was cooperating with investigators, who had requested information. RBS said members of its group had been named as defendants in a number of lawsuits in the United States. The bank said it had substantial defences to these claims. Following a newspaper report last month that it faced a 150 million pound fine, RBS said there could not be any certainty as to the timing or amount of any fine or settlement.
The Swiss bank said it had been granted leniency or immunity from potential violations by some authorities, including the U.S. Justice Department and Swiss Competition Commission, in return for its cooperation in the Libor manipulation probe. It did not specify what information it was providing. In December, Japan's financial regulator said it would penalise the Japan securities units of Citigroup and UBS after finding that an individual who worked at UBS and then moved to Citi had attempted to influence Tibor. It has also been the subject of U.S. lawsuits.
The German bank was among those being investigated, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters in March last year. The bank made no mention of the probes in its 2011 annual report. In July last year it was dropped, at its request, from the panel of banks contributing to daily fixings of Libor for U.S. dollars.
The Japanese bank did not mention the investigations into possible Libor manipulation in its 2011 annual report. In April last year it was one of 12 banks sued by Vienna-based asset manager FTC Capital, accused of conspiring to manipulate Libor.