Bloomberg’s Weil Keeps the Goldman Settlement Story Alive

The press mostly stuffed the big news the other day that Goldman Sachs agreed to a $60 million settlement with Massachusetts for its role in creating the mortgage crisis.

So it’s great to see Bloomberg columnist Jonathan Weil circle back to this one . And he’s got an interesting take on it: Why didn’t Massachusetts, you know, say what exactly Goldman did to deserve a $60 million “fine”?

Thanks to the commonwealth of Massachusetts, crusading attorneys general throughout the land now have a road map for extracting multimillion-dollar checks from Wall Street banks such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc.: Don’t accuse them of anything at all.

Weil compares the settlement to the “greenmail” companies pay corporate raiders to get them to go away.

For instance: Weil gets this revealing quote from Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley:

“They agreed it was in their best interests to mitigate whatever damage had been done,” she told me in an interview. “They’re the ones who asked ‘What would satisfy you?’ We laid out what we were looking for in terms of damages.”

Yeah. Sounds like greenmail to me.

And Weil asks the right questions here:

When I first read through the settlement agreement, which contained no findings of fact, I couldn’t help but wonder if this might be one of those instances where a prospective plaintiff agrees to take a payoff in exchange for keeping silent about any damaging information it knows.

It does seem Goldman, an Audit donor, was awfully eager to get this one to just go away.

Coakley said it was a fair question. She assured me, though, that this wasn’t the case. “There was no smoking gun here,” Coakley said.

But another point might be Goldman wanted it to go away before Massachusetts found the damaging information:

Yet there’s the inescapable feeling that we have no idea what really happened here… What much of the public is looking for, though, are answers about how some of the nation’s most powerful Wall Street banks helped drive us into our present economic mess.

We didn’t get any this time. Perhaps that’s one reason Goldman is so pleased with this investigation’s resolution.


And a key point to remember is that this is a $60 million settlement with just one state. If each of the fifty states got that it would be a $3 billion hit. And that’s just one Wall Street firm. Goldman wasn’t even a top-ten securitizer.

The legal aspect of this crisis has really barely begun.

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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.