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Pretty much standard ass-covering:

“Although we vigorously disputed the allegations in these cases, we concluded it was best to avoid the uncertainty, distraction and costs of the litigation, and to try to achieve certainty through these settlements,” Mark Herr, a spokesman for Merrill Lynch...

Except “these settlements” reached $550 million, which seems a little on the high side for “vigorously disputed allegations.” Fortunately, NakedShorts found the first draft of Herr Herr’s statement.

“The allegations of issuing false and misleading statements about CDOs and other assets backed by subprime mortgages were right on the money. If this had gone to trial, a bunch of current and former big shots around here would have had to either admit certain Madoffian tendencies, or perjure themselves. Not only that, regulators and federal prosecutors (if any) might have picked up some clues as to who else they should be asking which questions.

“Fortunately, Panickin’ Hank, in his final loss of bladder control, agreed to pick up the ‘Under New Management’ signs so we buried these bodies while the going was good.”

by Karen Gullo
Bloomberg Jan. 17 2009

by Scott Lanman and Craig Torres
Bloomberg Jan. 16 2009

* Entirely intentional pun.
Source: They're Such Kidders* at Merrill