That sure is a nice bank you’ve got there. Shame if anything bad should happen to it….
Mr. Lewis: There was a point after that that the board brought up the fact that we’re relying on the words that obviously has some very prominent people and honorable people, but, boy, what if they don’t come through? So I called Bernanke — I don’t know why I called him versus Hank — and said, “Would you be willing to put something in writing?” And he said, “Let me think about it.” As I recall, he didn’t call me back, but Hank called me back. And Hank said two things: He said, “First, it would be so watered down, it wouldn’t be as strong as what we were going to say to you verbally, and secondly this would be a disclosable event and we do not want a disclosable event.”
Mr. Lewis testifies about why he did not disclose Merrill’s losses to BofA shareholders:
Q: Wasn’t Mr. Paulson, by his instruction, really asking Bank of America shareholders to take a good part of the hit of the Merrill losses?
Mr. Lewis: What he was doing was trying to stem financial disaster in the financial markets from his perspective.
Q: From your perspective, wasn’t that one of the effects of what he was doing?
Mr. Lewis: Over the short term, yes, but we still thought we had an entity that filled two big strategic holes for us and over long term would still be an interest to the shareholders.
Q: So isn’t that something that any shareholder at Bank of America who had less than a three-year time horizon would want to know?
Mr. Lewis: The situation was that everyone felt like the deal needed to be completed and to be able to say that, or that they would impose a big risk to the financial system if it would not.
Q: When you say “everyone,” what do you mean?
Mr. Lewis: The people that I was talking to, Bernanke and Paulson.
Q: Had it been up to you would you made the disclosure?
Mr. Lewis: It wasn’t up to me.
Q: Had it been up to you.
Mr. Lewis: It wasn’t.
Q: Why do you say it wasn’t up to you? Were you instructed not to tell your shareholders what the transaction was going to be?
Mr. Lewis: I was instructed that “We do not want a public disclosure.”
Q: Who said that to you?
Mr. Lewis: Paulson.
For those who think the problem is free market capitalism, on what planet can this sort of thing be reasonably described as anything even remotely approaching a free market. And, of course, it’s no surprise that the CEO and board of directors are perfectly willing to destroy the corporation they run if the alternative is threatens their jobs.