Attached herewith is an important report in the Guardian. It places the deregulation of Wall Street during the Clinton Administration into a particularly smarmy perspective by examining documents just released by the Clinton library. Note the connections to players now in the Obama Administration.
This report paints a revealing albeit depressingly familiar portrait of how the iron triangle of individuals and money moving between government executive positions, and private sector, together with friendly legislators in Congress encourages corruption that leads ultimately to taxpayer bailouts. Consider please the following:
1. Note how the memos make it look like President Clinton was being rushed, implying a certain degree of passivity and manipulation by advisors. But before taking this at face value, bear in mind, Clinton was never a passive actor; quite the opposite, he was a highly energetic president. He set the tone, and he picked these advisors; he stayed with them; and he passed many of them on to President Obama.
2. Note that the repeal of Glass Steagall — Clinton’s signature deregulation of the financial markets and perhaps the major contributor to the rise of speculation that culminated in 2008 crash — was not a last minute affair. In fact, the memos show effort to repeal reaches bat to at least in February 1995 and May 1997 and the reference to eating the paper after you read it suggests a degree of malevolent cynicism.
3. Note the tight connection between the repeal Glass-Steagall and the pending Citigroup merger with Travelers Group, and particularly, the central the role played by Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin in the promotion of the of that repeal. Rubin was Secretary of the Treasury from 11 January 1995 to 2 July 1999 — the period covered by the memos contained in the Guardian report.
4. Finally, the reader should note that four months after leaving the Treasury Department, in Oct 1999, Rubin joined Citigroup. Here is a contemporary portrait painted by a 27 October 1999 report in the New York Times,
“Mr. Rubin, 61, a former top official of Goldman, Sachs & Company, said yesterday that he had joined Sanford I. Weill and John S. Reed, the chairmen and chief executives Citigroup, in what Mr. Reed described as a ”three-person office of the chairman” that will oversee what has become the first true American financial conglomerate since the Depression.
The appointment came less than a week after the Clinton Administration and Congress agreed on a compromise bill that would overhaul the laws that regulate the financial industry, a measure that removes many of the restrictions preventing banks, securities firms and insurance companies from buying one another or engaging in one another’s businesses. Both Mr. Rubin and Citigroup strongly supported the bill, which would greatly benefit the company. Mr. Rubin said he played a role in arranging the final compromise that will probably lead to the repeal of the so-called Glass-Steagall legislation. But he said that had nothing to do with his decision to join the company.”
By 2007 Rubin was Chairman of Citigroup. And in 2008, nine years after the repeal of Glass Steagall, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression hit Wall Street to trigger the worst and longest recession since the Great Depression. That crisis, among other things, collapsed the stock markets, destroyed retirement nest eggs, wrecked the housing markets, and put millions of people out of work — and our nation has still not recovered. Then the “best government money can buy” added insult to injury by bailing out of the banks that created the mess, while ducking the issue of re-regulating their behaviour with anything close to proven power of defunct Glass-Steagall Act. Some observers are now warning the government’s failure to reign in speculative behaviour is setting the stage for yet another crash (e.g., here and here)
And what about Rubin’s role? According to information in Wikipedia, on 3 December 2008, shortly after the financial collapse, the Wall Street Journal characterized Rubin’s mix of oversight and management responsibilities at Citigroup “murky.” In an interview with the Journal, Rubin defended himself, saying: “I think I’ve been a very constructive part of the Citigroup environment.”But, the Journal reported that Citigroup shareholders suffered losses of more than 70 percent since Rubin joined the firm and that he encouraged changes that led the firm to the brink of collapse. Investors filed a lawsuit in December contending that Citigroup executives, including Rubin, sold shares at inflated prices while concealing the firm’s risks. A Citigroup spokesman said the lawsuit was without merit..
But what happened to Rubin personally? According to a 20 September 2012 report in Bloomberg, Rubin received a total compensation of $126,000,000 from Citigroup between 1999 and 2009. Among other things, the former eagle scout is now co-chairman of the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations.
Wall Street deregulation pushed by Clinton advisers, documents reveal
Previously restricted papers reveal attempts to rush president to support act, later blamed for deepening banking crisis
Wall Street deregulation, blamed for deepening the banking crisis, was aggressively pushed by advisers to Bill Clinton who have also been at the heart of current White House policy-making, according to newly disclosed documents from his presidential library.
The previously restricted papers reveal two separate attempts, in 1995 and 1997, to hurry Clinton into supporting a repeal of the Depression-era Glass Steagall Act and allow investment banks, insurers and retail banks to merge.
A Financial Services Modernization Act was passed by Congress in 1999, giving retrospective clearance to the 1998 merger of Citigroup and Travelers Group and unleashing a wave of Wall Street consolidation that was later blamed for forcing taxpayers to spend billions bailing out the enlarged banks after the sub-prime mortgage crisis.
The White House papers show only limited discussion of the risks of such deregulation, but include a private note which reveals that details of a deal with Citigroup to clear its merger in advance of the legislation were deleted from official documents, for fear of it leaking out.
“Please eat this paper after you have read this,” jokes the hand-written 1998 note addressed to Gene Sperling, then director of Clinton’s National Economic Council.
Photograph: Clinton Library
Earlier, in February 1995, newly-appointed Treasury secretary Robert Rubin, his deputy Bo Cutter and senior advisers including John Podesta gave the president three days to decide whether to back a repeal of Glass-Steagall.
In what Cutter described as “an action forcing event”, he wrote to Clinton on 21 February, telling him Rubin wanted to announce the policy before it was raised by the House banking committee on 1 March.
“In order to position Secretary Rubin – rather than any of the regulators – as the Administration’s chief spokesman on this issue, the Secretary intends to discuss the Administration’s position at a speech which will be covered by the press in New York on 27 February,” wrote Cutter on 21 February.
“It is therefore necessary to have an agreed-upon Administration position by the end of the day on Friday, 24 February.”
Photograph: Clinton Library
Podesta, who was then staff secretary but went on to become Clinton’s chief of staff, wrote a covering note telling the president that all his senior advisers backed the plan, although he noted the danger that “allowing banks to engage in riskier activities like securities or insurance could subject the deposit insurance fund to added risk”.
But Clinton’s advisers repeatedly reassured him that the decision to let Wall Street dismantle regulatory barriers designed to protect the public after the Great Depression simply represented inevitable modernisation.
“The argument for reform is that the separation between banking and other financial services mandated by Glass-Steagall is out of date in a world where banks, securities firms and insurance companies offer similar products and where firms outside the US do not face such restrictions,” wrote Podesta.
Podesta currently works at the White House as special adviser to President Barack Obama. Sperling stood down as director of Obama’s National Economic Council last month.
Along with Cutter, who worked on Obama’s transition committee, all three men were close allies of Rubin, who spearheaded the deregulation of Wall Street before joining the board of Citigroup in 1999. In 2007, he briefly became its chairman.
The closeness of Obama’s team to the deregulation policies of the late 1990s is well known and has been criticised by campaigners as a reason for the current administration’s reluctance to institute more aggressive Wall Street reforms after the banking crash.
But the new documents cast fresh light on the way the White House was first ushered toward deregulation by the tight group of Rubin allies.
A similar apparent attempt to rush president Clinton’s decision-making occurred later in the process, in 1997.
In a letter received by the president on 19 May, Clinton is again given just three days to decide whether to proceed with the deregulation agenda.
“The attached memorandum asks you to authorize Treasury to proceed to announce and submit their financial services modernization proposal,” writes Sperling.
“Secretary Rubin intends to introduce the proposal in a 21 May speech, and to testify before the House Banking Committee the first week of June.”
Photograph: Clinton Library
In his letter, Rubin reassures Clinton that the issue need not take up much of his attention.
“Should you approve our recommendation to move forward, the proposal would be a Treasury initiative, and would not require a significant time commitment from the White House,” writes the Treasury secretary.
“I and my staff will manage the process of advancing the proposal,” he adds.
Photograph: Clinton Library
The sense that the president need not concern himself with the detail is amplified by his own staff, who appear happy for him to be pushed along by the Treasury timetable.
In a covering note from staff secretary Todd Stern, Clinton is warned: “The attached memo is long, detailed and technical, but you can get the essentials by looking at the first four pages.”
Stern adds: “If you agree. Treasury will, tomorrow, put out some advance word on the Rubin speech.”
Photograph: Clinton Library
Throughout the documents, which are among 7,000 pages released by the Clinton library on Friday, there is little discussion of internal opposition to repealing Glass-Steagall, although some memos inadvertently touch on the risks that ultimately proved so expensive to the US taxpayer.
“Notwithstanding the pounding Treasury took today, there’s still much to their position on the regulatory structure (which really depends on the proposition that we’re not good at regulating complex financial (let alone non-financial) companies, but we’re pretty good at walling off the bank to protect the taxpayers),” concludes Clinton adviser Ellen Seidman in one 1997 memo.