Bloomberg Continues to Lead on the Fed and AIG

Bloomberg has the story of the day today, an eye-raising scoop that the New York Federal Reserve, then headed by now-Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, told AIG to conceal critical details of its bailout from the public.

AIG said in a draft of a regulatory filing that the insurer paid banks, which included Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Societe Generale SA, 100 cents on the dollar for credit-default swaps they bought from the firm. The New York Fed crossed out the reference, according to the e-mails, and AIG excluded the language when the filing was made public on Dec. 24, 2008.

Even worse, the Federal Reserve was telling a public company to cross the SEC.

AIG’s Dec. 24, 2008, filing was challenged privately by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which polices the adequacy of disclosures by publicly traded firms. The agency said in a letter to then-CEO Edward Liddy six days later that AIG should provide a Schedule A, which lists collateral postings for the swaps and names the bank counterparties that purchased them from the company. The Schedule A was disclosed about five months later in a filing.

As I recall, that filing came only after public outrage and intense pressure from Congress forced the issue, not because AIG or the Fed had a sudden change of heart. Bloomberg got these emails from Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, who requested them from AIG after a good Bloomberg story on its bailout a few months ago.

Why would Fed want AIG to conceal information from the public that the SEC said it needed to disclose? Well, think back to the idea—laughably denied by Geithner himself—that the AIG rescue was a backdoor bailout of Goldman Sachs (an Audit funder) and foreign banks. Reporter Hugh Son is good to point this out up high, in the third paragraph.

It’s clear the Fed was trying to cover up the fact that it had just bailed out—to the tune of $62 billion—its uber-rich countrymen at Goldman Sachs and the Frenchmen and Germans at Societe Generale and Deutsche Bank at a hundred cents on the dollar on their stupid credit-default swap bets. The Fed probably would have succeeded in concealing this if not for fantastic reporting by The New York Times’s Gretchen Morgenson and the late Mark Pittman of Bloomberg.

Also, recall that Bloomberg reported in October—this is the story that piqued Congressman Issa that the Fed paid 100 percent to Goldman et al for the swaps, cutting off an effort by AIG itself to give their counterparties a haircut. Bloomberg reported then that the Fed’s decision cost taxpayers at least $13 billion.

And that’s not all:

As part of a bailout that swelled to $182.3 billion, AIG and the Fed created Maiden Lane III, a taxpayer-funded facility designed to remove mortgage-linked swaps from the insurer’s books. Shannon told the New York Fed on Nov. 24, 2008, that AIG executives wanted to publicly disclose details about Maiden Lane the next day.

“Do you think it might be feasible to hold off on the Maiden Lane III 8K and press release until next week?” Brett Phillips, a New York Fed lawyer wrote in an e-mail that day. “The thinking is that the Maiden Lane III closing will be a less transparent event, and it might be better to narrow the gap between AIG’s announcement and the New York Fed’s publication of term sheet summaries.”

“Given the significance of the transaction, AIG would be best served by filing tomorrow,” Shannon wrote. “We will of course be guided by your counsel.” The document outlining the Maiden Lane agreement was posted on Dec. 2, 2008.

So what else don’t we know? This story only gets better, and by better, of course, I mean worse.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.