If AIG were a C-list celebrity instead of a company, it would be Donald Trump. It just has a special gift for pissing people off.
The board of insurance giant AIG, which got a $182 billion government bailout during the financial crisis, meets Wednesday to hear a pitch from its former CEO, Maurice "Hank" "The Grinch" "Assclown" Greenberg, who wants AIG to join him in suing the government for violating shareholders' human rights by giving them money. AIG's board will also hear pitches from the government about why it would be out of its cotton-picking mind to join said lawsuit.
The idea that AIG is even contemplating such a lawsuit, first reported by the New York Times Monday evening, caused heads to explode all over Washington like in a David Cronenberg movie. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke are said to be "furious," Politico reports. Newly minted Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called the idea "outrageous." Anonymous Obama administration officials grumbled darkly to Politico, like they do. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, MarketWatch's David Weidner suggests maybe the government could charge AIG with treason.
The truly annoying thing is that AIG's bailout terms were actually fairly cushy, and the Obama administration made them easier as time went on, notes the NYT's Peter Eavis. But this sort of tone-deafness is par for the course at AIG, notes Quartz's Matt Phillips, who guides us through the progression of AIG's "mind-melting chutzpah" since the crisis. You have probably forgotten how newly appointed crisis-era CEO Robert Benmosche dallied at his Croatian villa for the Zinfandel harvest before moseying in to work. Perhaps you have forgotten the rage you felt when you learned that the stooges at the AIG financial-products division, which brought the whole company down, and the global economy with it, were getting giant taxpayer-financed bonuses. The outrage, it burns!
Fortunately for our blood pressure, there is probably not a chance in hell that even AIG would be stupid enough to sue the government. As Dealbreaker's Matt Levine points out, the despicable Greenberg has put AIG in a tight legal spot with his lawsuit. If it ignores the suit, then it could end up getting sued by shareholders. So today's meeting is all about humoring Greenberg as he hisses on about His Precioussss, much as you'd humor the person raving on the subway platform until you can get a safe distance away.
But don't worry: There's still reason for us to be mad at AIG: They could have made this lawsuit go away a long time ago by deciding not to join it, but they have delayed, letting Greenberg carry on with it, driving up legal costs for the government. And now the whole world knows about this and is infuriated. It's AIG's special gift.
Update: As expected, AIG did not take Greenberg's bait.