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Blankfein: Suit Against Goldman Will “Hurt America”

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An interesting disconnect exists between Goldman’s public posture on the SEC’s suit against it over its Abacus 2007 AC1 deal and its private remarks. The firm has maintained that the charges are baseless and politically motivated, and hinted that if there is any dirt here, it must be the fault of Fabrice Tourre, the staffer named as a defendant along with the firm itself.

Yet according to the Financial Times, Goldman’s chief Lloyd Blankfein made a series of calls to clients yesterday to defend the firm. The substance of his remarks sound so over the top as to suggest that the firm’s leadership feels badly threatened by the pending action. A truly confident actor would make reassuring noises along the lines of “Look, this may all look dramatic in the headlines, really there isn’t anything here, but the press and the government will take decisions and actions out of context and try to make them into something they aren’t. These distortions are unpleasant, but we are confident the truth will come out in the end. If you see or hear anything that troubles you as we fight this case, don’t hesitate to call me or XXX.”

Instead, Blankfein’s comments sound like those of a narcissist completely unhinged at the idea that he is being criticized. If this neurosis pervades the Goldman executive ranks (which we think is entirely possible, see our earlier discussion), that provides an indirect confirmation of the widespread perception that the firm is concerned only with what it can get away with, and is lacking in any moral compass.

From the Financial Times:

Lloyd Blankfein on Wednesday attacked the Securities & Exchange Commission’s fraud charges in telephone calls to clients as Goldman escalated its campaign to stem the damage to the bank’s reputation.

One person who received a call from the Goldman chief said he was told the regulator’s case against the bank was politically motivated and would ultimately “hurt America”….

“He was very aggressive,” said one person called by Mr Blankfein on Wednesday. “He feels that the government is out to kill them, that they are under attack and the whole thing is totally political.”

Yves here. The idea that an SEC’s enforcement action on a lone transaction is tantamount to a campaign to “kill” the firm is bizarre, and sounds an awful lot like Dick Fuld at his less than stellar moments. It suggests either hypersensitivity to bad press, or recognition of the possibility that the discovery in the SEC case will expose widespread predatory conduct (as we noted in an earlier post, the private suits against derivatives kingpin Bankers Trust similarly looked weak, but they did huge damage to the bank by exposing cynical, rapacious behavior towards clients).

While it is too early to tell, the SEC may have found Goldman’s underbelly.

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116 comments

  1. Keenan

    I guess it wasn’t enough for Blankfein to pronounce Goldman God’s right hand men. Now, according to him, they’re all Captain America ….. well, except for Fabulous Fabrice, but after all he’s French.

  2. Tom Stone

    These are not mutually exclusive and may be fueled by a sense of betrayal.Blankfein bought a large portion of the IPO when Obama went on the market and the administrations actions,feeble as they are, might have occasioned a sense of outrage.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Tom,

      I’m not exactly sympathetic.

      Despite its deluded protests otherwise, Goldman would have gone under in October 2008 absent government intervention. Moreover, in the Wall Street of the not-ancient past, Blankfein would not only have had most of his net worth tied up in Goldman partnership interests, but would also have unlimited liability.

      You are implying that Team Obama somehow pressured Blankfein to put his money where his mouth was. But Goldman was particularly eager to get free of the TARP and kept maintaining its business was sound (which would imply from a legal, not merely a financial perspective). So who fooled whom here?

      1. steelhead23

        Who is fooling who? Why my dear lady, it is crystal clear, Lloyd Blankfein is busily fooling Lloyd Blankfein – and he is succeeding.

        As regards Obama – I believe he has fooled many Americans who tend to pay more attention to what he says than what he does. The question for NC readers is this: will Obama/Reid support Blanche Lincoln’s amendment to the Dodd bill? If so, then Obama is serious about “reining them in”. If not, the squid wins.

        1. readerOfTeaLeaves

          For the life of me, I continue to mix up Lloyd Blankfein with Wallace Shawn’s performance as Vizzini in ‘The Princess Bride’, outsmarting himself by circular logic powered by a megadose of arrogance.

          As the Dread Pirate Roberts said of Vizzini, “Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.”Increasingly, Blankfein also appears to have ‘a dizzying intellect’.
          It’s a little weird to watch GS running around in circles.

      2. Tom Stone

        Yves,I apologize for my lack of clarity.I did not mean to defend Blankfein in any way.I do believe that almost anyone in his position would end up delusional if not deranged.How often does he hear criticism? how accustomed is he not only to “Getting his own way” but how many of those who surround him are grovelling or charming courtiers who would do or say whatever it took to get or maintain favor?He lives in a very isolated and privileged world which skews his view of reality to a degree that is incalculable,but not small.Personally I believe that he belongs in Pelican Bay and hope he gets there soon.

    2. alex

      Henry Clay Frick, who had supported Teddy Roosevelt to the tune of $100,000, is credited with the complaint that “We bought the son of a bitch, and then he didn’t stay bought.”

      Do I think Obama is another TR? Of course not, but he’s more than welcome to try and change my mind.

      1. Raging Debate

        Interesting comment, my take on it:

        1) I do believe this current SEC action is political theater for the 2010 elections.

        2) Governments are bigger than the bankers and have the guns. The bankers, like the citizenship do not learn from history. The choice for politicians will increasingly become one of “it is us or the bankers”. The bankers believe they are bigger than the government.

        3) The people are bigger than the government. Government is lent its power by the governed. The government has not learned from history and believes it is bigger than the people.

        The game is changing because GS has begun running out of marks and point number 3. The creators of the bezzle have either made their exits or are exiting now. The parasites have killed the host and expect their new host China will be most compliant. I believe THAT is what their big critical miscalculation will be. Every sophisticated financial group of swindlers make the miscalculation that all can be contained.

    3. steelhead23

      OMG – Tom, your IPO analogy to campaign contributions was simply brilliant. Damn near choked on my bagel over that one.

    4. pewestlake

      I think most of us, and the media, have been missing the obvious when it comes to Goldman’s “support” for candidate Obama. The Republicans were going to lose, period. And a simple historical analysis pointed to the conclusion of the Democratic primary. Goldman “invested” in Obama because they thought he had the best chance to win. They gave money to every candidate and do so with every cycle. They give the bulk of their donations to the candidate they think will win and try to use the “support” as a lever to extract concessions. I hope what we are seeing is a President shooting a big caveat emptor across a lot of bows.

  3. Deborah

    Sounds like corporate bullies, people in suits that have the maturity and responsibility of the 14-year-old high school bully and have power. Take their suit away and the lead a life of crime.

    Oh wait, aren’t the being charged with crimes?

  4. liberal

    the SEC’s enforcement action … is … a campaign to “kill” the firm…

    [NB: selective editing altered the meaning of what Yves said]

    Would that it were so.

  5. mitchw

    The FT piece also wrote that the SEC had requested a jury trial. Maybe Goldman is prepping the jury potential jury pool as part of their PR strategy.

  6. Tom E.

    Goldman might go the way of Drexel.

    Transformational changes or major political turning points are always interesting because the villains have their heads so deep in the sand that they are incapable of doing the simple and practical things that would save them.

    Its like watching a slow moving train wreck.

    1. krf

      Many times in the past 7 days I have thought of Drexel Burnham. The hubris and narcissism is eerily identical!

    2. MindTheGAAP

      “Goldman might go the way of Drexel. ”

      In my opinion, this is exactly what is likely to happen, although Bankers Trust may be a better analogy.
      And it’s not just Goldman that is scared. I think that Jamie Dimon has finally learned to shut up in public about America’s desperate need to give JPM free money and a free pass on everything they do.

  7. MichaelC

    The SEC may or may not have found Goldman’s underbelly, but I’m pretty sure you have.

    The similarities to Fuld are striking. Fuld’s posturing during and after, continuing through his testimony the other day, is pure he doth protest too much. His protests were consistent but ultimately unconvincing and I’m pretty sure insincere.

    No one in that role, no matter how narcissistic, can remain blind to their culpability. More likely he become sufficiently self aware, perhaps too late to save his firm, to realise he needs to maintain the arrogance to save what’s left of his own skin. Fuld as Junior Soprano, crazy like a fox.

    A key takeaway re Fuld from Sorkins book, was Fuld’s stubborn insistance on his ‘Jamie deal’. He misjudged and never got it, but it looks like that expectation drove all his decisions, which was a rational strategy, even though it ultimately failed. The apparent lack of self awareness looks to me like a gimmick to cover for his failure to develop any strategy as an alternative to a bailout. He surely realized they were toast without a ‘Jamie deal’. All the moaning and hand wringing, self pity is a self serving sidesow.

    In Goldman’s case they realize they are vulnerable. Blankfein’s acting in classic bully mode, act agressively when frightened. The jaw dropping arrogance and apparent cluelessness signal he’s terrified.

    That’s a good thing. Its time to ridicule these silly utterances.

    THe SEC may hurt America. That’s hilarious, not arrogant.
    Goldman clearly already HAS hurt America, (and greece, and Germany, and Iceland, and Italy and…). We should be laughing at this nonsense, not timidly recoiling from it.

  8. planesdrifter

    Ooooh, so right! Never, ever sue corporations, because it’s the downfall of America. Those big companies are like mommy and daddy to us children and would never do anything to hurt us, even if daddy was pimping mommy crack whore and instead of helping to feed us kiddies they just blew all the money on drugs for themselves and let our home go into forclosure.

  9. kevin de bruxelles

    I’d say GS are sophisticated enough to know that they have to exaggerate their reaction to this slap on the wrist from the SEC; just like they have to be “against” the weak reform bill in order to give it authenticity with the general public and to allow apologists of Obama to explain that this is the best their guy can do given the fierce opposition.

    Back in the days of corporal punishment, the kid who was smart enough to put on five pairs of pants before getting his spanking also knew that he would blow it all if he didn’t put on a good show of acting like it hurt. This is all I am hearing from Blankfein — howling in anger to help cement Obama in the role of stern disciplinarian. The sad truth is that Obama behind the scenes probably helped Blankfein slip into his padded pants.

    Otto von Bismark once said that “Not through speeches and majority decisions will the great questions of the day be decided – that was the great mistake of 1848 and 1849 – but by iron and blood (Eisen und Blut)” To me the SEC moves and the fake reform bill fall in the speeches and majority decisions category. I’m waiting to see something that I can call iron and blood expended before I believe this is anything more than Kabuki.

    1. curlydan

      Totally agree, Kevin. Externally to clients or the press, Goldman will squeal in protest and pain, but internally, they’ll fight hard, minimize the pain, and eventually end up saying “that wasn’t too bad”.

      Blankfein does sound a bit unhinged lately, and any “hurt America” crap seems like a throwback to W and Cheney thinking. Nonetheless, they’ll eat a few million in payments to lawyers in exchange for a few billion in easy profits.

    2. Tao Jonesing

      I once worked with a company that had the unfortunate need to engage a crisis management PR firm. Based on my interactions with that firm, what GS is doing is anything but sophisticated. As a matter of common sense, what GS is doing is downright self-destructive.

      Blankfein is acting as if there’s something to hide, not like an innocent man. If you’ve done nothing wrong, you should welcome the chance to establish your innocence. If you have something to hide, you will do everything within your power to avoid discovery.

      Another way to interpret what Blankfein said is as a threat. “If you don’t leave me alone, America, you’re gonna be sorry.”

      And whose “America” is going to be harmed? What does Wall Street know about Main Street, aka what most people think of as the real America?

      Most companies faced with similar circumstances simply come out with a statement that they are disappointed with the government’s decision, but will cooperate fully with the investigation becayse they are confident that when all of the facts come out, everybody will see that there’s been no wrongdoing. Then, they work the back channels out of public view. But GS seems committed to keeping this story front and center in the public eye.

      1. kevin de bruxelles

        Tao Jonesing,

        I think the problem is that you are looking at this from the point of view of a well educated person with knowledge of the subject. The problem is that the Obama/ Goldman’s Sachs communications strategy is aimed at the masses who do not understand the subject since they do not read Naked Capitalism. The only way they can analyze a complex subject is to see who is for it and who is against it. What Blankfein is doing with his sophomoric rhetoric is rallying the Bush / Cheney ghost purposely – not to block anything – but to add legitimacy to their man Obama. So yes they want to keep this Kabuki theatre front and center — that is one of the clearest sign it is all a game.

        Just look at the recent health care “debate”. The insurance companies did the same thing in the beginning with wild rhetoric as on the one hand the “wilded up” the wing-nut troops but on the other hand worked behind the scenes with Obama to craft a bill that was very much in their interests. The wing-nut resistance was only there to give legitimacy to Obama’s efforts to the quiet majority who detest the right wing. The secret is that people react much stronger to negative input than to positive. The bill was so bad that it would never be popular on its merits so a false opposition was created to give Obama supporters something to react against.

        In the end it is power (or blood and iron) that determine the winners and losers. Nothing has happened to reduce GS’ and the other TBTF’s overwhelming power in the last few weeks. All we are being fed is cheap and colorful reform-candy to appease the masses into staying with the two main parties come November.

        1. Anonymous Jones

          I’m starting to detest that I agree with you so often. One addition…the power of GS may start to diminish if their clients and counterparties start to avoid them, as Yves mentions with the BT analogy. I don’t see it happening. GS wields so much power at this point that the “king” can bestow tiny little gifts to placate the counterparties while taking the large share of resources for itself.

          This will be interesting nonetheless.

        2. PQS

          I won’t deny that much of this is for the cheap seats, but doesn’t GS have more to fear from the Institutional Investor group than the cheap seats? I.e., isn’t it possible that they are really afraid of losing some big clients over this, and so are marshaling their forces, however badly?

          Also, given what I’ve seen of Mr. B over the past year or so, plus the characterizations from both inside and out of this firm, that he starts to growl and snap when he is questioned doesn’t surprise me.

          1. kevin de bruxelles

            I agree that they may be worried about institutional investors, which is why they have brought the battle into an arena they own and dominate – namely the government and the MSM. For the past year or so Goldman Sachs was getting hammered in the blogs and other forums that they don’t control. Now the battle has moved to the SEC, the MSM, and the political arena. By throwing their lot in with the Republicans, GS are doing the Democrats (who they own) a huge favor. In the end the SEC will find GS’ French lone-nut guilty on some obscure technicality but clear the firm otherwise, which will open the door for the institutional investors to continue to use them. In the meantime the Democrats will have been seen from the cheap seats as having stood up to Wall Street and will be able to keep their majorities in the coming elections. And a faux reform bill will pass in order to satiate the popular appetite and in the process assuring that a real reform bill with teeth will die the same death as the public option did in health care.

        3. Tao Jonesing

          Kevin,

          There’s no doubt that some of the people whose passions were manipulated to oppose healthcare reform will take up Blankfein’s cause, as well. But there are three things that Blanfein does not understand.

          First, he’s in court now. The dynamic is completely different than that of legislative debates. If I were Lloyd’s lawyer, I’d be telling him to shut up. If I were the SEC’s lawyer, I would be hoping that he keeps it up. The guy is a plaintiff’s lawyers dream. He can’t help himself.

          Second, Blankfein is going head to head with POTUS, and he’s doing it publicly. And he’s doing this after Goldman helped tank the economy. I, for one, tended to believe that Obama was going to stop with this crappy little civil case, but if Blankfein keeps it up, I think we will see the investigation widen. Clearly, it’s been awhile since Blankfein kissed anyone’s ass, but he better remember quickly. At the very least, don’t go around publicly challenging somebody who has power over your future. That’s just stupid.

          Third, there is a faultline in the right wing populist anger that neither Blankfein nor you seem to see. A lot of those people wanted the government to let Goldman and the others die. The kind of arrogance Blankfein is showing is only going to remind these people of that sentiment and reignite it.

          From a PR/propaganda perspective, Blankfein should be holding himself above the fray, affirming Goldman’s innocence while humbly promising to cooperate fully with the government. Simultaneously, he should be relying on allies and surrogates to say the things he said above. That’s how you make Goldman seem sympathetic to the uneducated and/or ideological-motivated. What he’s doing makes him look arrogant and defensive, particularly in view of the fact that the lawsuit itself is such a minor little thing in view of his overall business.

          “Oh, noes! If Goldman has to pay the maximum penalty, which amounts to about one fifth of the profit it makes in a single day, Goldman will be destroyed and America will be harmed!” Right.

          1. kevin de bruxelles

            1. GS have no more to fear from the SEC than they do from their cleaning staff. Those SEC guys have shown for the past decades that they don’t even have a bark let alone a bite.

            2. The nicest gift GS ever could give Obama is have a “beef” with him. If they really didn’t like the guy they would start saying nice things about him.

            3. I’m fascinated by the tea party right and have seen how confused they are on TARP and GS. On the one hand they love everything about wealth and power but on the other hand there is a hint of socialism in how the government bailed out the banks. But in the end the wingnuts will back wealth over ideology.

            I think the main difference between our points of view is that you see this as an actual Olympic boxing match while I see it more like a World Wrestling Entertainment event.

          2. Doug Terpstra

            “…he’s in court now.”

            If only. Let’s hope, and then into criminal court where it belongs, but along with most commenters here, I’m skeptical that it will get past ‘undisclosed, no-admission’ settlement.

          3. Tao Jonesing

            @Kevin,

            The real difference in our points of view is I think Blankfein is not reading his WWE script. He is supposed to be playing the strong silent hero who “loses” and then quietly soldiers on, all the richer for it. But he has so lost himself in his character that he is forgetting that he is a just an actor in this drama. He believes that he is the hero and cannot let himself take a fall. As a result, he is being overly emotional, and his actions are threatening to turn this kabuki into a real contest, a contest that he and his company will lose.

            As a former general counsel of a public company, I’m shocked by this CEO’s behavior. If there was a phone call where the White House scripted this out with Blankfein and I had a chance to sit in on it, I would not have agreed to let Blankfein say what he said. There are too many constituents and contingencies involved here. Having worked with Goldman over the years, I believe my approach is consistent with Goldman’s approach historically: Goldman is never the gambler; Goldman is always the house.

            What Blankfein is doing is completely out of keeping with the character of his firm. I think he’s lost his senses.

            As you say, though, we’ll see.

        4. prostratedragon

          The entire universe of potential marks has now been informed. GS can’t do many kinds of deals without them, which I’d say cuts into their power quite a bit.

          (And per another commenter, were I in the threat monitoring business, Mr. Blankfein’s remarks would catch my ear.)

    3. Wide Awake

      Kevin, I agree with you. World Wrestling indeed.
      What I don’t understand is how so many political
      observers can’t see that.

  10. Ian

    It is not so much that they are unaware as simply employing the same bullying stance that has worked so well for them in the past. This is beginning to feel a lot like Enron and Tyco. The investigation will eventually reveal the putrid and decayed carcass of not just one participant, but of the entire corrupt system.

  11. kssong

    in 1811 nathan rothschild said this …”Either the application for renewal of the charter is granted, or the United States will find itself involved in a most disastrous war.”(1812 war)

    now this “…and would ultimately hurt America”
    is llyod blankfien thinking of 1812?

  12. isaiah s

    I have come to really enjoy your blog and have recommended your book to everyone interested in a good explanation of the CDO, CDS… issues that helped precipitate the recent financial crisis but I think we dissagree on Goldman Sachs.
    While I have no doubt that many employees there engaged in a lot of acts that might be regarded as ethically dicey I have no reason to think they did any more of this than Merrill, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan etc. In my experience they are better at what they do and certainly no more untrustworthy than the others.
    Yes, they did better (were less likely to go out of business than the others) during the worst of the crisis but I don’t see that they were cheating anyone- certainly it is silly to claim they were cheating AIG- a company well known for being nasty and always playing hardball. JP Morgan seems to have done about as well and I can’t figure out why Goldman engenders so much enmity and one hears virtually nothing about JP Morgan.

    1. Evelyn Sinclair

      Goldman people are in the high places pulling strings. That makes them high-visibility agents of capture.

      And saying “the other bullies are just as bad” doesn’t sound like much of a defense somehow.

      Fine, lets go after the other criminals too.

    2. Tao Jonesing

      Are you saying (1) since everybody was doing it, Goldman Sachs should get a pass, (2) since Goldman Sachs played the fraud game better than everybody else, it should get a pass, or something else?

      Google “goldman sachs matt taibbi vampire squid,” read the Taibbi article you find at the Rolling Stone site, and you’ll get a sense of why there’s a special level of enmity leveled at Goldman Sachs across the intertubes. It goes way beyond CDOs and this blog. (Better yet, hang out at zerohedge for thirty minutes; that place is absolutely caustic when it comes to GS, JPM, etc. Maybe that will feel more fair and balanced for you.)

      In any event, I don’t see how any enmity or bias is in play when GS has been sued by the SEC for fraud and their idiot CEO decides to say something stupid that keeps the lawsuit as a lead story. When JPM gets sued for the same thing, if their CEO does something similarly stupid, I have no doubt that we’ll see a similar blogpost.

      FYI — I don’t believe the SEC lawsuit is alleges that GS cheated AIG. All of the allegations are about statements made to investors in the CDO, not AIG as writer of the CDS. Read the complaint.

    3. Bill

      “In my experience they are better at what they do and certainly no more untrustworthy than the others.”

      Most would call this “damning with faint praise”….

  13. Frank Ohsen

    Lloyd is upset because their public image is getting tarnished and since they represent America’s most powerful, smartest, and successful investment bank ever (regardless of it having magically metamorphosed into a plebian holding bank by of all things financial necessity), the administration in defacto implication is therefore tarnishing America’s overall image as well.

    Does America really want this kind of bad press? Don’t you get it? This is what he’s trying to shout to everyone from the 85 Broad Street rooftop and you’re just not listening.

    Works for me, Lloyd. I think you have a strong argument here. Now you just have to convince 299 million other people. You can do it. Afterall God is on your side.

    (Note to self: whenever invoking publically that I’m doing God’s Work make sure God is on board first and most importantly that I have proof in case somebody asks for it.)

  14. Eric L. Prentis

    Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein “doth protest too much, methinks”; and guaranteeing too much is normally the mark of lying to yourself and to others. However, take seriously Lloyd Blankfein’s threat to the US over this SEC action; why, because GS is too big to fail, has many of its own ex-employees working in government, has access to free money from the Federal Reserve and consequently, has a great deal of money to hire lobbyists and give campaign contributions to politicians which results in laws written in GS’ favor. But most importantly, FEAR GS, because, GS’ culture seems to be revengeful, egoistical, egotistical, and eviscerating.

  15. Ed

    It is really, really wierd. First Goldie got caught totally unawares by the lawsuit, then they u-turn on Tourre (how did it take them 3 days to figure he had to go on paid leave?), and now Lloyd is going apeshit with clients.

    Those are three so un-Goldie like events – surprise, indecision and lack of composure. The Fuld analogy is both apt, and scathing in ways that people familiar with Goldie will fully understand.

    1. BDBlue

      Well, they weren’t completely unaware, they got a Wells notice. I wonder if they did a Wells submission. But it does sound like they didn’t get advanced notice that the SEC was filing and then the SEC filed on a Friday, which sounds to me like they pissed off the SEC staff. Given their public statements, not a surprise, really.

      Who is representing Goldman in the litigation? Wait, let me guess, Matthew, Mark, Luke & John, LLP, doing God’s work for more than 2000 years.

    2. krf

      I totally agree that the events since last friday have contained many non-goldie-like events. If the reporting is true that Blankfein is throwing coniptions with investors, then truly he does protest too much! Something does not feel right to me… a watcher of Goldie for some time. On their conference call the other day, the General Counsel said the Wells Notice was not material? Everyone I’ve talked to says this is total hogwash. It should have been disclosed, at least via press release. I think Goldie felt untouchable and played the game that way up until Friday. Now they are so mad they can’t think (or act) straight.

      Many of the crimes at Enron happened towards the end of the game, when Skilling called the short seller an a-hole, etc. Even though I don’t particularly like Goldie, I find myself feeling sorry for them. They’ve handled the PR on this about as bad as you possibly can.

      1. Ed

        I don’t know if it is coincidental, but the core of the Abacus case is if Paulson’s involvement in asset selection was material – so for Goldie to come out and say the Wells notice was itself not material at least I suppose allows them to point to some sort of consistency.

        1. rkf

          and there’s always the fuzzy definition of what’s material… depends on who’s asking, yes? Would Board or audit committee members be informed of a Well’s notice? If so, its material in my book. Either the Well’s itself is material or at very least the PR fall-out and related reputational risk.

  16. AK

    >> “He feels that the government is out to kill them, that they are under attack and the whole thing is totally political.”

    Agree with first part (that Goldman is a target to kill).

    Disagree with second part (that whole thing is totally political). By killing Goldman ‘they’ want to contain financial sector risky behavior.

  17. WPW

    It may be that Lloyd is on unfamiliar ground. As the head of GS he is the ultimate alpha male warrior used to getting his way on everything. He gets his way not through subtlety and nuance, but by the use of energy and force. He is used to simply having to make himself appear large in order to exert his will.

    Now the game is more dynamic. Too many variables, many of which cannot be controlled through the usual mix of flattery and brute market force. This is not the turf of an investment banker and a warrior never wants to fight on unfamiliar and unfriendly turf.

    Thus the flailing. Suddenly GS looks vulnerable. It appears they survived 2008 more through luck than skill. Lloyd will not survive. Look for a smoother, more politically skilled leader very soon.

  18. Evelyn Sinclair

    Reminds me of my ex. His idea of what was “fair” was always amazingly one-sided. He nearly burst a blood vessel when it was explained to him that I actually had rights to half of what I had helped our businesses earn. Utterly unfair!

    Years later he admitted to me, just once, that he thought he might be one of those people who don’t have a sense of right and wrong. Psychopaths are out there. They are running things!

    1. Evelyn Sinclair

      Oh, and the threats that this will “hurt America” also sound familiar. He may be thinking in terms of taking the rest of us down with him if he’s truly feeling attacked, like Samson pulling the temple down. (My ex went into psycho-threatening mode too, promised to “burn the house down” in outrage.)

      Maybe he’ll strap a bunch of derivatives to his chest and threaten to detonate them by revealing their actual market value….

      1. Bill

        “Maybe he’ll strap a bunch of derivatives to his chest and threaten to detonate them by revealing their actual market value….”

        HA HA Evelyn Sinclair, the Zero Hedge crowd would love this one, it’s a classic !!

  19. EmilianoZ

    They got Al Capone on tax issues. Maybe they can get Goldman on some pretty trivial lawsuit.

  20. D'Annuzio

    Blankfein is simply behaving the same way he and his ilk have always behaved. It worked for them in the past.

    They don’t fathom how much times have changed.

    GS = Enron = Drexel

    Blankfein = Charlie Keating

    1. MindTheGAAP

      “Blankfein is simply behaving the same way he and his ilk have always behaved. It worked for them in the past.”

      To be honest, I’m not sure Blankfein is worrying about what happens to Goldman right now–I think he’s worried about his job at Goldman. The New York Times story was one indication ( http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/20/business/20blankfein.html?scp=1&sq=blankfein&st=cse ), and this story seems to be another one.

      What Blankfein hasn’t clued in to yet, though, is that it doesn’t matter what he says or what he gets anybody to say on his behalf anymore–anytime his (or Goldman’s) name is mentioned or his picture is shown, people’s blood pressure goes through the roof.

      1. Thomasina Jefferson

        I agree. In my view it’s all about bonuses and the possibility to wield power and influence. The company is just a tool for doing that.
        So he is not worried about the company – which would require empathy – he is worried that he could lose his income source and power tool.

  21. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    The thing about squids is that they are chameleons.

    To an untrained hunter a squid might be mistaken for an eagle and in trying to shoot the squid, he ends up injuring the eagle – I think that is the theory here.

  22. Hugh

    The first rule of the con is to never admit the con, ever. Admit the con and the game is up. Don’t admit the con and you might still convince a few of the rubes. Alternately, you may convince them that you really didn’t believe it was a con. It was just a mistake. You were taken in too.

    Yves is right Blankfein could have been a lot smoother in his pitch. He’s coming across as overly defensive (corollary to the above, never let them see you sweat), showing that the people at Goldman are not only not the smartest guys in the room. They aren’t even the best grifters.

  23. Bmccaw

    The similarity to World Com, Enron, Banker Trust…. etc…

    GS has to go and the government should go prosecute them and take all these guys’ money away, then put them to jail for life, that will serve justice.

    They are anti-christ and they have rape and rob the world.

  24. Tao Jonesing

    Sophisticated? I say petulant.

    From a HuffPo interview of Blankfein after Obama’s speech today:

    “Blankfein added, ‘The President is talking about financial reform in New York City. Unless we had to be somewhere else, of course we’d be here.’”

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/22/obama-cooper-union-speech-financial-reform_n_547456.html

    Nice. Goldman’s board should remove Blankfein before he does further damage to the company. He has become too emotional, and what he is doing is going to permeate his organization if not stopped. Goldman needs an adult in charge.

  25. Alex UD

    Another way to look at Blankfein’s posturing–assuming GS continues this PR path–is that he is trying to divide an conquer. The “it will hurt America” rhetoric is right up conservatives’ alley.

    With the SEC split vote and the partisan nature of the financial reform bill, he may be positioning Goldman/Wall Street as a right left issue ahead of this year’s elections.

    It makes GS’s actions (publicly at least) no longer about right vs wrong, ethical vs unethical, legal vs illegal, it becomes Big Government vs Business FoxNews & CNBC vs NY Times or Liberal vs Conservative.

  26. David B.

    Well, the proof this is a bad idea by Blankfein is that it was obviously a client who leaked this to the FT.

  27. cereal

    Blankfein’s response is not at all unusual among senior executives of large companies being investigated by the government: they generally think like he does, that the government is on a witch hunt/vendetta/baseless political attack/clueless bureaucratic crusade/jealous jihad against those more successful than them/etc. In many cases they are correct, too. What’s odd here is that nobody (say, securities litigation counsel) has gotten to Blankfein and told him how to handle this very high-profile case properly.

  28. DavosSherman

    F/U Lloyd, go work for the Catholic Church – some of their deranged bishops and priests need help “Doing God’s work”.

    F*ing devil worshipers who think molesting children or microwaving your mother (blowing up the economy) for a dollar is doing God’s work.

  29. NC Jim

    “I’m a lawyer not a priest”

    David Boies in response to Michael Lewis’s comment on Charlie Rose last night that what Goldman did might not be illegal (as Boies had suggested) but was wrong. I hope this exchange makes the round of the blogs as it is representative of the basic issue.

    Jim

  30. steve from virginia

    “Every banker knows that if he has to prove that he is worthy of credit, however good may be his arguments, in fact his credit is gone: but what we have requires no proof. The whole rests on an instinctive confidence generated by use and years.”

    Walter Bagehot ‘Lombard Street’

    1. Doug Terpstra

      In “Goldman’s White House connections raise eyebrows” at McClatchy, Greg Gordon highlights a number of apparently incestuous liaisons, including the connection to Obama’s former counsel, Greg Craig, as well as other White House contacts apart from the so-called woodshed meeting when, I believe, Blankfein phoned in his bit. From the article about WH contacts, while the SEC probe was underway:

      “The logs also indicate that Blankfein met twice in 2009, on Feb. 4 and Sept. 30, with Summers, who was undersecretary of the Treasury Department during the Clinton administration when it was headed by Robert Rubin, a former Goldman CEO.”

      “Asked whether Goldman executives had talked to administration officials about the SEC inquiry, Goldman spokesman Michael DuVally said that the firm doesn’t discuss “what conversations we may or may not have had with government officials.”

      http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2010/04/21/92637/goldmans-connections-to-white.html#ixzz0lrbowFxe

  31. BDBlue

    I don’t think I ever represented a stock broker who didn’t ask me in the middle of the investigation if they could sue the SEC (even when they went in and had to take the 5th during testimony, which should’ve been their first clue they were in some trouble). This is that attitude on steroids.

  32. bartkid

    >One person who received a call from the Goldman chief said he was told the regulator’s case against the bank was politically motivated and would ultimately “hurt America”….

    Sounds like a tumor describing cancer surgery.

  33. The Derivative Project

    Thank you Yves for your great work. The Derivative Project sees public shame and public disclosure the only way to end the rogue behavior that is cutting at the fabric of society.

    Congratulations to the State of California’s Treasurer for taking the lead and the German Corporation Beyern. Here is the link to corporations and municipalities taking change into their own hands.

    http://www.thederivativeproject.com/Blog.html

  34. Sandy

    I don’t want to seem superficial (although I am), but does it ever occur to the rest of the troops at GS that Lloyd Blankfein is not the CEO to have in the midst of this public relations debacle? The man is not only unattractive, but his face is always crooked and squinting and snarling, all at the same time. He looks like the epitome of evil!

    Surely there is someone over there who will not conjure up Beelzebub every time he appears and invokes God and Country to explain their fraud!

  35. Doug Terpstra

    Blankfein’s frantic and strident response does seem to betray a garrison paranoia quite characteristic of a cult.

    On the other hand, it may well be in his script—sound rattled, yell and protest loudly, and wail in quavering voice so the back row can fell your pain. Then we can all blame a few ‘bad apples’, or one rogue Frenchie, throw him in the klink under plea agreement (and fine retirement package), then reach a fore-ordained non-disclosed settlement. Then, after curtain call with bows and curtsies, it’s back to killing-as-usual.

  36. Vinny

    “According to the Financial Times, Goldman’s chief Lloyd Blankfein made a series of calls to clients yesterday to defend the firm”

    I have just received reliable information that those calls were made in the middle of the night from Mr. Blankfein’s encrypted satellite telephone, while he was in the process of illegally crossing the Somali border on camel-back. He allegedly also had his underage mistress with him (yes, my source confirmed Blankfein is a vicious pedophile), and he also carried a a suitcase of cash as well as a backpack full of stolen Rolexes.

    As for the future of his career, he is excited to be able to directly apply his Wall Street skills doing the “Lord’s work” on the behalf of various gangs of Somali pirates.

    Vinny

    1. AK

      Vinny says:
      >> my source confirmed Blankfein is a vicious pedophile

      I hate Goldman as you do but this is overboard IMHO.

  37. rkf

    The damage Blakenfein is doing himself, and worse, his SHAREHOLDERS, is worse than the lawsuit (at least from what I can read in the complaint). The “Wizard of Oz” is about narcissm. Lloyd is the wizard, and the curtain is being pulled back with the SEC suit.

  38. giantslor

    Republicans can’t decide whether to accuse Obama of being a corrupt servant of Wall Street who is pushing for perpetual bailouts, or a radical socialist who wants to destroy Goldman and capitalism in general. Pretty hard to take them seriously when their message is so muddled and contradictory.

    1. Doug Terpstra

      And yet, amazingly, large numbers do take them seriously. The R party has become Obama’s best insurance for re-election, perhaps by design.

  39. Jerry

    Yves….could you do a post of two every few weeks on the UK? Some say this is a problem lurking behind other headlines…

  40. nanute

    Blankenfein’s days are numbered. If Goldman can get around the revolving door restrictions, Paulson will be back shortly.

  41. Bob K

    Blankfein can go fuck himself. I’m pretty sure Sachs can come up with a CDO that can do that. They do it all the time to their clients.

  42. anon

    Thanks, Yves. I think this is potentially very revealing because it seems that it was not intended for public consumption. In his more public, “official” presentations to the press, Blankfein has taken the high road of “we didn’t do anything wrong.” In contrast, in the more private setting of a client phone call (and one assumes in other private settings), he seems almost paranoid and certainly very narcissistic.

    I give more credence to his private behavior. In contrast to some of the comments above, I think his behavior in client calls is not as likely to be due to political considerations (e.g., manipulating the public perception of potential legislation or how captured Obama or DC is), as his more public pronouncements, which are probably run by the lawyers and PR. The public pronouncements, not the client calls, are probably the ones designed for “the cheap seats”. I think the client calls are closer to Blankfein’s true perceptions and feelings (though are still filtered).

    This reminds me of Drexel but also of GM. I remember full-page newspaper ads from GM in the fall of 2008 that essentially said “if you don’t rescue us, we’re taking the whole US economy down with us.” I was flabbergasted at the narcissism and undisguised extortion when I saw them. It seemed that the top-brass at GM truly still believed that “what’s good for GM is good for America” and were oblivious about how others might see their heavy-handed money grab when conducted in full public view (and perhaps unaware of those other perspectives at all or that GM’s blatant extortion might backfire from a PR POV). It seems like Blankfein feels the same way about GS.

    1. anon

      To clarify: I don’t think Blankfein’s statements during the client calls are due to political considerations such as the desire for the appearance of a fight between Obama and GS (so the public will think that Obama is actually doing something to rein in GS) because I don’t think this kind of story is likely to be picked up by the MSM. Without MSM coverage, I don’t think it will enter the public consciousness in a way that will affect the narrative of Wall St. vs. Main Street (and which side the politicians are helping).

  43. wojciech

    It remainds me trailer of “Iron Man 2″ when
    Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) says:
    “If you make God bleed people would cease to belive in him” :-)
    So, now we see that God is bleding and he is surprised more than us ;-)

  44. skippy

    Machiavelli 101…

    Kill that, what gave rise too your power…or always be threatened by it.

    Is the young prince Obama (aka Bruce of Scotland) ready to act/become kingly…time will tell.

    Skippy…um now why did JWB kill Enron after all they did for him…lawyers, private jet, funds etc etc…could he have stitched up florida with out their help…me thinks not…dead or diminished men tell no tales or everyone laughs at them, their attempt, I was framed after helping them in the crime….I mean I’m innocent…lolz.

  45. ChrisPacific

    The strange thing is that this should be BAU for Goldman. Structuring shady deals so that they fall within the letter of the law (or else between the cracks) is what they do, and why their clients pay them. One would expect that they would be accustomed to meeting challenges from regulators such as the SEC as a matter of course. Why the persecution complex?

    I can think of two possibilities. One is complacency: they’ve been given a free hand for so many years that it’s a shock to actually have regulations applied to them. In this view they probably see the SEC as a tame dog that suddenly turns around and bites you. The second possibility is the one advanced by Kevin above: Obama needs GS to squirm enough to appease the unwashed masses and satisfy them that Something Is Being Done, and Blankfein is obliging.

  46. sgt_doom

    I say this with the most heartfelt sincerety, I resolutely believe, that once the public is fully conversant with the colossal and institutionalized fraud taking place, the only thing which will be bad for America is NOT to see Blankfein, Paulson, Rubin, Greenspan and a host of others dangling from the end of a noose. (Isaac Newton would defiitely had them both hung and quartered!)

    With over 80% of the American GDP deriving from leveraged speculation, things have got to be getting worse for the majority.

  47. Glen

    If we start hearing the Republicans spout the same talking point then this could all be coordinated action with Senator MMcConnell’s Wall St meeting last week.

  48. K Ackermann

    I don’t know how I missed that post from the 13th that you linked to here.

    From the perspective of an industry outsider, That was one of the most insightful, informative articles I’ve read for quite some time.

    The comments were outstanding, and I particularly enjoyed DownSouth’s comments. My reading list just grew. I love seeing my own internal thoughts and suspicions clarified and crystalized by people with better knowledge than my own. I’m not looking for confirmation; it’s just nice to have some heavy concepts come into sharp focus.

  49. recaldo

    the funniest part is GS’s attempt to distance itself from Fabrice Touree and to say it was a “sole individual” responsible. Goldman’s entire internal culture is predicated on the universal sharing of information. A low level employee can pick up the phone and call Lloyd Blankfein if they wanted to. This is just one of their many advantages over other banks.

  50. Paul Tioxon

    I am sure all good New Yorkers will understand the prize possession, other than Wall Street, is Broad Way, Hit It!

    WHAT’S GOOD FOR GENERAL BULLMOOSE
    From the Broadway Show “Li’l Abner” (1956)
    (Johnny Mercer /Gene De Paul)

    (Parts 1 & 2)

    Part 1:

    General Bullmoose:
    (Speaking
    What’s good for General Bullmoose is what’s good for the U.S.A.
    And by Dow Jones and all their little averages,
    Don’t you forget it! Right, boys?

    Men:
    (Singing)
    Right!
    Three rousing rahs and a few hussahs
    And a hip-hip-hip hooray
    What’s good for General Bullmoose
    Is good for the U.S.A.

    Part 2:

    General Bullmoose:
    (Speaking)
    We’ll show these hillbillies what’s what!
    Right, boys?

    All but General:
    (Singing)
    Right!
    He makes the rules
    And he intends to keep it thataway
    What’s good for General Bullmoose
    Is good for the U.S.A.

  51. Sundog

    Pains me to disagree with KdeB, super exposition there BTW, but I’m with Yves. Blankey knew that what he was blathering was likely to end up in the financial press/blogs but was compelled to make a move. Seems there’s blood in the water.

  52. Richard Kline

    I seriously doubt that GS could withstand any vigourous discovery into their process in making these ‘Kill the Stupes’ deals. That is why staying out of court is important. The way that the contracts were structured may be a high enough wall that GS’s army of lawyers can defend it against individual buyers of said products, and said buyers still have to function in a financial market where GS can turn on and off the money taps to those it doesn’t like at a significant level. But if any sovereign guvmint starts the ball rolling, and fraud or the like is _substantiated_ a whole fifty furlongs wide is blown in that defense, and any and all who got long and wrong in GS deals will come marching in. That is the fear.

    GS could probably pay any any one complainant to shut up and go away, or stiff the small fry. But once proved skanks, their teflon shield begins to peel. O’ course, I don’t think for a second that Obama and the SEC are serious here. He and his need better visuals going into the next round of elections. The phoney Financial ‘Deform’ bill is what he has his heart set on. If, when, and as that’s passed—and some oportune squeezing of GS is in service of that, seems to me—and the media hit of this ‘investigation’ is far back in the newscycle, the SEC can quitetly drop it. Bet on that happening in about six months. It’s all kabuki, far ‘s I can see.

  53. za

    This is the Microsoft trial all over again. The difference is, Microsoft was too naive to buy off congressmen preemptively.

    1. chaosnet3

      unpopular? .. so that is what it boils down? .. popularity? .. is that so? .. and why they are unpopular .. their breath smells? .. they are unpopular for a reason that surpasses any legalities .. the USA legal system provides for .. what the shrewd lawyers they will hire, will try to take advantage of .. and what is all these .. about proven .. guilty or innocent .. criminals are caught not for the hideous crimes .. they perpetrated .. these are well-hidden .. all evidence diligently destroyed .. but for minor offenses, tax evasion, parking tickets fines avoidance .. name it .. the whole world suffers from the crimes they perpetrated .. and that makes them criminals .. regardless if they had the backing of key segments of the top echelons of the American nation .. what supposedly represents the views of the American people .. but it is not .. these views are brewing, lurking from underneath and rise .. and because these views regard Goldman Sachs hideous perpetrators .. the top echelons respond .. and not for the sake of some legal formality or not

  54. so much presumption of innocence

    Goldman Sachs may be an unappealing defendant, but the rush to judgment on this site is pretty shocking, especially when you consider that the alleged victims (IKB and ACA) don’t appear to have behaved much differently/better and have the ability to pursue “justice” via private enforcement in the courts

    This is McCarthyism. Guilty until proven innocent. (Yes, I know it’s a civil fraud suit, but there’s still a presumption of innocence, by preponderance of evidence.) The comments make for a depressing read. If you’re unpopular, you deserve no rights – that’s the message of this message board. People who didn’t know what a CDO was 18 months ago feel sufficiently well-informed to opine about what is, if we’re honest, a case with complicated facts which are largely in dispute. Depressing.

    This is a deeply illiberal site.

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