House Committee To Grill Lewis, Bernanke and Paulson

This will probably be good theater and solve nothing. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform plans to have Ken Lewis and top federal officials testify under oath about the events surrounding the acquisition of Merrill.

From the WSJ:

The decision to hold a hearing before members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform comes after investigators spent the last week reviewing documents at the Federal Reserve. The person familiar with the investigation said the review of documents, notes from phone conversations involving Federal Reserve officials, and other information suggest “there’s fire there.”

At issue is February testimony by Mr. Lewis to New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo suggesting he felt pressured by former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to complete the deal after attempting to pull out when he learned of Merrill’s ballooning losses. Mr. Lewis also suggested he was urged not to publicly disclose any issues with Merrill’s finances.

The probe could touch a number of prominent government officials. In addition to Paulson and Bernanke, top lieutenants for each could also face scrutiny as part of the investigation. Current Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner hasn’t been mentioned as being privy to the conversations in question, but investigators do plan on reviewing department documents in the near future.

We may well be reaching the point of diminishing returns on this issue. Most likely all who are called to testify will do so in a manner that keeps them within the bounds of the laws against perjury while carefully crafting answers that shed little additional light on what transpired. The fact that it’s going to take place in front of a grandstanding House committee as opposed to some tough investigators suggests that we won’t learn anything.

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