By William K. Black, Associate Professor of Economics and Law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One. Jointly published with New Economic Perspectives
As a savings and loan regulator, on April 9, 1987, I experienced Senator John McCain at his very worst. He, and his four Senate colleagues, collectively, the “Keating Five,” pressured my colleagues and me to withdraw our recommendation that our agency place Charles Keating’s Lincoln Savings and Loan into conservatorship. Keating was looting Lincoln Savings and would soon defraud thousands of widows. Lincoln Savings became the most expensive failure because the combination of the ‘Keating Five’ and Speaker of the House James Wright, Jr. successfully intimidated the new leadership of our regulatory agency. The cowardly new leadership team refused even to consider our conservatorship recommendation and took the unprecedented action of removing our regulatory jurisdiction over Lincoln Savings. Senator McCain and his colleagues acted badly for poor reasons and caused grave harm. Senator McCain has said that his actions on behalf of Keating caused him greater pain than his North Vietnamese torturers.
I write because of the despicable treatment of Senator McCain in his dignified struggle with what may be his end of days on this mortal plane. President Trump and the loathsome failures – his promised “best people” – are enraged at Senator McCain for his best actions. At the April 9, 1987 meeting, Senator McCain acted contrary to his personal moral code, which together with the harm it caused to the public he had spent much of his life defending, is what caused him such pain. Trump’s troglodytes are enraged at Senator McCain’s actions to protect the public and live up to his personal moral code.
I will not mention the name of the staffer who made the ‘joke’ about Senator McCain’s approaching death or her bosses who have refused to act. I will not waste my breath urging Trump to act. None of us is surprised that John Kelly has again deserted honor. I will speak no more of Trump in this letter for he and his ilk are so devoid of honor that they cannot understand the concepts that lead me to write.
For whatever comfort it may offer to Senator McCain and his family I offer this assurance. We who suffered when you made your greatest mistake never saw you as a villain. My regulatory colleagues and I had many discussions about the five Senators’ actions. We were appalled and desperate to counter those actions. We were never callous. If any of us had ever uttered a statement one-hundredth as callous as that made by Trump’s staff about Senator McCain, the other three senior regulators would not have leaked the statement to the media. They would have immediately called the person to task and demanded that there be no repeat of such callous comments.
Each of the five Senators that we saw at their worst had a distinguished record of public service. We treasured even Senator Cranston, for example, who with Senator DeConcini was deepest in Keating’s pocket, for a wondrous act. Cranston lost a civil suit for copyright violation when he was a young man because he translated into English and published extensive excerpts of a book without the author’s permission. Cranston’s goal was to warn the American public of the author’s dangerous polemic. The author was Adolf Hitler and the book was Mein Kampf.
We, the four regulators who had the awful meeting with the ‘Keating Five,’ always had a special reverence for two of the Senators – John Glenn and John McCain – for their lifetime of courage and service to the people of America. I want John McCain to know that even in the very worst moments of the Lincoln Savings’ catastrophe we never forgot that lifetime of service and never ceased in our private conversations to remind each other of your life of courage and honor. Yes, we were disappointed in your actions, but John Glenn and you never lost our deepest respect. We saw you as kindred spirits, for our goal was to protect the public from the Keatings of the world. We always knew that the world was a far better place because of John Glenn and John McCain. We never lost sight of the fact that the April 9, 1987 meeting was the only meeting of our lives with two authentic heroes.
Fair seas and following wind John McCain. You and your family are in my prayers. As a fellow Irish-American, if you predecease me I will gather my family, stand, and offer a toast celebrating your life and sacrifices. Thank you for all you have done for America. I pray that you may recover and render further service.