Friday, July 2, 2010

No apologies from the man who crashed the world

When I read Joseph Cassano’s prepared testimony for the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, there was one phrase that really hit me: “it was the right thing to do.” Cassano, the man whose credit default swap shop at AIG went so haywire it triggered a global financial catastrophe, actually said this twice. It was the reason AIG decided to stop writing deals with subprime exposure in 2006. And it was also why he volunteered to take no bonus for 2007. In nine pages of prepared remarks, there were no apologies, no remorse, no contrition.

Fortunately, when Cassano sat down in front of the congressionally appointed commission yesterday in Washington, he didn’t read the self-serving document, which was too complex for anyone but himself to understand. And he was gracious enough to tell the commission they shouldn’t blame his team at the Financial Products Unit, saying, "Don't criticize them, criticize me."

Well they did, but it took a lot for the commission to get Cassano to admit he did anything wrong. When Cassano was asked if he made any errors, he said, “When I think about the single error that may have been made by me I think how when I retired I didn't volunteer to be the chief clear, chief negotiator for the collateral calls.” Cassano went on to say if he hadn’t left he could have gone to the counterparties and “negotiated a much better deal for the taxpayers than what the taxpayers got.”

Wow. One error from the man who crashed the world, as Michael Lewis dubbed him in his brilliant Vanity Fair piece. And if only he had had stayed at AIG, I guess everything would have turned out so much better.

I commented on Cassano’s testimony on Bloomberg television, saying I was really angry because Cassano not only walked away from AIG with $300 million; he was paid a million dollars a month to consult for AIG afterwards because they needed him to unwind their deals.

After two years of silence, Cassano finally spoke this week, now that he doesn’t have to worry about charges. Afterwards, his lawyers said Cassano hopes his testimony “helps to correct the serious misinformation now buried in the public discourse about AIG FP." But he can’t rewrite history, and the only thing Cassano accomplished was to give the public a good look at the hubris that led to AIG’s downfall.

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