On Thursday, Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) CEO Kenneth Lewis stood before house lawmakers and proclaimed: “They made me do it.” He was pouting and pointing at the federal government, or more specifically, at former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. He called them bullies and told lawmakers that he “really, really, didn’t want to buy Merrill Lynch.”
Ok, so maybe that didn’t really happen, but it might as well have. Lewis was called before a congressional committee to clarify his claims that federal officials pressured him into acquiring Merrill Lynch and hiding from Bank of America’s shareholders the financial problems Merrill Lynch had. Lewis has already been stripped of his Chairman title by angry shareholders and still finds himself under intense scrutiny by the government. According to emails sent between Lewis and federal officials, he asked for a written document that explicitly absolved him from any legal risk should any shareholder lawsuits arise. He has said that he does not recall ever sending or receiving such emails. Paulson and Bernanke will soon be called to testify and answer these allegations.
This whole theatrical show continues to be nothing more than a “he said, she said” scene. Lewis doesn’t matter anymore. He’s just another incompetent CEO who should be working as a janitor and wondering how his life ended down the “toilet”.
What’s really infuriating, aggravating and simply maddening is the government’s role in all this.
When did the government turn into the “Big Bad Wolf?”
When did the government decide it was time to play musical chairs with the public’s trust?
Instead of coming forward and answering these allegations, Paulson and Bernanke seem nowhere to be found. They’ve hidden themselves amongst the shadows and are just waiting to be found like two running troublemakers, which is essentially what they are. They put Bank of America in a position where they had to get emergency bailout money in order to keep itself afloat. They have caused Bank of America to lose $108 billion dollars in capitalization since the merger of these two companies, and all for what? To save Merrill Lynch from bankruptcy, a company they knew could put Bank of America in financial peril right after its recent acquisition of Countrywide Financial? What a joke.
The government turned its back on Bank of America’s shareholders, but more importantly, they turned their backs on the American people who had to come and save Bank of America with their hard earned tax money. The government isn’t the only one to blame. Obviously, Lewis should have known better and protected his shareholders, not his board members who were being “threatened” with removal. He should have told the government: “Thanks, but no thanks.”
Because at the end of the day he managed to forget something - he forgot that officials, congress and even the president aren’t the government.
The People are the Government.