New York Times reporters Gretchen Morgenson and Don Van Natta have dumped a gigantic bucket of kerosene on the Goldman Sachs (GS) conspiracy fire with a new report detailing the extent to which then Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson was in touch with his old bank during the pit of the crisis.
Bottom line: he was in touch with Goldman a lot.
While Mr. Paulson spoke to many Wall Street executives during that period, he was in very frequent contact with Lloyd C. Blankfein, Goldman’s chief executive, according to a copy of Mr. Paulson’s calendars acquired by The New York Times through a Freedom of Information Act request.
During the week of the A.I.G. bailout alone, Mr. Paulson and Mr. Blankfein spoke two dozen times, the calendars show, far more frequently than Mr. Paulson did with other Wall Street executives.
On Sept. 17, the day Mr. Paulson secured his waivers, he and Mr. Blankfein spoke five times. Two of the calls occurred before Mr. Paulson’s waivers were granted.
By waviers, they’re referring to ethics waivers which had barred Paulson from having any significant relationship in dealing with Goldmn Sachs issues, as Secretary of the Treasury. Clearly, this was no time to be bound by old formalities and ethics limitations that they thought would never become an issue.
It also belies the claim – which Goldman still maintains to this day – that the firm was never in danger, even with the teetering AIG and the financial crisis as a whole. What these records suggest is that Paulson was, indeed, concerned about Goldman’s condition specifically – if he’d just been talking to Blankfein about general market conditions, the waivers wouldn’t have been required.
Still though, you have to give Goldman Sachs credit for message discipline:
A spokesman for Goldman, Lucas van Praag, said: “Lloyd Blankfein, like the C.E.O.’s of other major financial institutions, received calls from, and made calls to, Treasury to provide a market perspective on conditions and events as they were unfolding. Given what was happening in the world, it would have been shocking if such conversations hadn’t taken place.”
Although federal officials were concerned that Goldman Sachs might collapse that week, Mr. van Praag said the only topics of discussion between Mr. Blankfein and Mr. Paulson at the time involved Lehman Brothers’ troubled London operations and “disarray in the money markets.” Mr. van Praag said Goldman was fully insulated from financial fallout related to a possible A.I.G. collapse in mid-September of last year.
Here’s the thing; there’s really no doubt that Goldman could have collapsed. Without access to the Fed, even the healthiest bank couldn’t survive a bank run by hedge funds, and an unwillingness among counterparties to lend overnight. That’s just a fact. And in this particular crisis – again, even if Goldman were fully hedged and didn’t have a balance sheet loaded with garbage – that run on the bank could have felled the bank. They absolutely could have gone down if there hadn’t been an intervention, and Paulson knew it.