Bloomberg’s Big Paulson Scoop

The former Treasury secretary told the public one thing while telling select traders another

Bloomberg Markets reports that in July 2008 then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson told a meeting of big investors, including several fellow Goldman Sachs alumni, how he would nationalize Fannie and Freddie and wipe out shareholders, “leaving little doubt that the Treasury Department would carry out the plan,” according to Bloomberg’s source.

Paulson at the same time was telling the public—via reporters and Congress—that this was not going to happen. Here we see Paulson using The New York Times to mislead the public about what was really going on. That’s not to blame the NYT for reporting it—it had no way of knowing at the time what Paulson had just said in his private meeting at Eton Park. But it shows starkly how the story we get from sources often differs, cynically, from what they really believe.

Yet he had told reporters on July 13 that the firms must remain shareholder owned and had testified at a Senate hearing two days later that giving the government new power to intervene made actual intervention improbable.

“If you have a bazooka, and people know you have it, you’re not likely to take it out,” he said.

On the morning of July 21, before the Eton Park meeting, Paulson had spoken to New York Times reporters and editors, according to his Treasury Department schedule. A Times article the next day said the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency were inspecting Fannie and Freddie’s books and cited Paulson as saying he expected their examination would give a signal of confidence to the markets.

It’s one thing, I suppose, to fib to the public in a bid to prevent a financial panic. It’s another to then tell your cronies what you’re really thinking.

As Richard Teitelbaum reports, there’s no way to know (without a subpoena, anyway) whether the “boldface names” who got Paulson’s inside information used it to trade Fannie and Freddie shares directly.

Future Obama car czar, private-equity exec, and New York Times reporter Steve “Chooch” Rattner, for instance, was there but couldn’t remember much, especially any bad stuff:

Brosens and Rattner both confirmed in e-mails that they had attended and said they couldn’t recall details. They didn’t respond when asked whether they traded in Fannie Mae- or Freddie Mac-related instruments after the meeting.

That information isn’t public.

But you can bet the lucky folks at the meeting used the information to color how they traded more broadly. Paulson’s info was extremely bearish and not just for Frannie.

Worse, this isn’t the first time Paulson has been caught giving Goldman folks inappropriate information. Audit contributing editor Felix Salmon points out over at Reuters that this Paulson meeting came a month after a Moscow meeting with the Goldman board reported in Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Too Big to Fail, and flagged by Felix at the time:

Given that it’s taken two years since the release of Sorkin’s book for the Eton Park meeting to be made public, it’s fair to assume that there were other meetings, too — possibly many others. Paulson was giving inside tips to Wall Street in general, and to Goldman types in particular: exactly the kind of behavior that “Government Sachs” conspiracy theorists have been speculating about for years. Turns out, they were right.

Indeed. If we know about these two meetings, you have to assume there were many others. That’s a big story to follow.

Can I say again, for the second time in two days, how glad I am that Bloomberg is still turning over rocks from 2008? Reading the inevitable Taibbi take alone will be worth it.

Excellent work by Teitelbaum and Bloomberg Markets.

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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. Tags: , , , ,