Financial crisis commission questions top bankers behind closed doors

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The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) garnered attention last month when it hauled the heads of four of Wall Street’s largest banks to Capitol Hill to answer questions about their roles in the taxpayer-funded bailouts of their companies. And since that first round of public hearings, the 10-member commission and its staff of 35 has worked quietly from offices on Pennsylvania Avenue, questioning key players behind closed doors as part of their ongoing investigation into the causes of the financial meltdown.

Democratic Chairman Phil Angelides and Republican Vice Chair Bill Thomas told The Daily Caller that they have met with most figures central to the bailout including Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, as well as heads of the SEC in closed session, and intend to have many of them testify under oath in public. They’re also planning to meet privately with former government officials such as Hank Paulson and Alan Greenspan.

Thomas, who represented California’s 22nd district in Congress for almost 30 years, said the FCIC has received timely cooperation in their mission so far: “In fact, most people have gone out of their way to help, recognizing that we have an important job to do and a limited time frame to do it.”

The commission is in close contact with parallel investigations and discussions happening on Capitol Hill. The House Oversight Committee recently interrogated Geithner in a much-anticipated session — one that Republicans spent more than a year trying to secure. “We’re not going to let anyone run out the clock on us,” Angelides, who has been frank about his willingness to use his subpoena power if necessary, affirmed. Angelides served as California State Treasurer from 1999-2007.

Despite being in regular contact with the key architects of financial regulatory reform proposals, such as Sen. Chris Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee; Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Rep. Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, the FCIC says its job has nothing to do with specific reform proposals.

“There are many issues they can’t get to immediately, Fannie and Freddie or credit ratings agencies for example, and many they can’t reach because of jurisdictional issues,” said Angelides. That’s where the FCIC plans to step in and link all the pieces together. Financial regulatory reform is still high on the agenda in Congress, and the commissioners feel their work will be of value for years — if not decades — to come.

Thomas said despite the partisan act that created the commission, and despite the fact that it isn’t due to report until after the mid-term elections, the FCIC is well positioned to fulfill its mandate. “Our focus is to explain what happened,” said Thomas. “We don’t have any jurisdictional limits on where we go or what we do, plus they gave us subpoena power, and the ability to refer matters to [the Department of ] Justice, so the only things I see hampering us are the classic ones: limited time, and a limited budget.”

The FCIC will look at system risks and specific human actions, and will also look far into the past to examine what historical buildups created the perfect storm that paralyzed Wall Street starting in 2008.

Angelides summed up the FCIC mission by saying, “In any mysterious death, an autopsy is always valuable.”

The 9/11 Commission produced a book that sold 1.5 million copies — and Angelides has said he hopes his commission will do at least as well.

The Commission is due to present its report to Congress by December 15.