The federal commission that investigated the origins of the financial crisis is set to issue three competing conclusions next week.
The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission’s main report, to be released Jan. 27, is backed only by the panel’s six Democratic appointees. The four Republicans have written two separate dissents, according to a blog post by one of them.
The differing narratives may further limit the commission’s impact on financial-regulation policy or on who the government should hold accountable for the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. The panel, created in 2009, was touted by some lawmakers as the best way to determine what caused failures on Wall Street and in the mortgage and banking industries.
“It will make interesting reading, but I don’t know anybody in a policy position that is waiting for” the report, said Wayne Abernathy, a former Treasury Department official who is now an executive vice president at the American Bankers Association in Washington. “They broke with the effort to form a consensus pretty early, and from then on people started discounting their work.”
Congress set up the FCIC to delve into the causes of the meltdown that toppled Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and prompted U.S. bailouts for companies including American International Group Inc. The commission has taken testimony from executives including Warren Buffett, the billionaire chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein.
Millions of Pages
The panel and its staff have reviewed “millions of pages of documents, interviewed more than 700 witnesses and held 19 days of public hearings” during their investigation of the crisis, according to its Jan. 19 statement announcing the report’s release.
The Democrats’ final report cites a broad swath of failures for the crisis, according to three people who have been briefed on the report or have seen parts of it. They blame greedy bankers and mortgage brokers, lax derivatives oversight, bumbling credit-rating firms, predatory lending, a lack of risk management at banks and decades of deregulation, said the people who spoke on condition of anonymity because the report isn’t yet public.
The report will focus on “regulatory agencies such as the Federal Reserve and the Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as members of the overall financial community such as the rating agencies and the investment banks who put together these derivatives and then put a triple-A rating on them all before they were sold,” former U.S. Senator Bob Graham, a Democratic commissioner, said in a December telephone interview.
The main report will be available as a published book, as well as a free document on the Web. The publishing schedule, the people familiar say, made it difficult for commissioners to review the final report in its entirety.
The book version, due at the publisher in mid-December, was delivered in early January, the people said. In their vote to approve the report, commissioners split along party lines, 6-4.
Each Republican was given nine pages in the commercial book to air their views, though they were allowed to take as much space as they needed in the official report that will be posted online. That version will also be sent to Congress and President Barack Obama.
Caused a Stir
The panel’s four Republicans caused a stir in December when they released a preliminary paper outlining their findings. The Democratic majority had voted over their objections to push the deadline for the report from December to the end of January.
Now the Republican unity has fractured, Keith Hennessey, one of the Republicans, confirmed in a posting on his blog Jan. 19. Though he didn’t give details, Hennessey said he had signed on to a 27-page dissent along fellow Republicans Bill Thomas, the former California congressman who serves as the panel’s vice chairman, and Douglas Holtz-Eakin.
The dissent will “supersede” the preliminary paper that came out last month, Hennessey said on his blog.
That initial document was written mainly by the other Republican on the panel, Peter Wallison. His final paper, which only he has endorsed, is a 43,000 word rebuttal — nearly 100 pages — to the Democrats’ findings, three people with knowledge of the commission said.
Wallison’s report will focus mainly on the government’s housing policy as the cause of the crisis, they said. He also takes aim at how the commission was run, putting blame on the management of its Democratic chairman, Phil Angelides, and not the committee staff, the people added. Wallison’s dissent also criticizes the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush for their housing policies, the people said.
Tucker Warren, the spokesman for the commission, declined to comment on the separate reports.
Wallison, according to the people, largely did his own research and didn’t rely on much of the testimony or documents from the commission’s investigation. In his dissent, he said the commission’s probe lacked objectivity and the conclusions were based more on opinion than data.
The Republican division, said three people who requested anonymity because the report is still unreleased, centers mainly on how much blame to cast on government housing policies. While Wallison largely blames the role of mortgage-finance firms Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the other three Republicans will point to a broader set of problems, including the failure of government regulation and individual greed, the people said.
When the commission publicly split down partisan lines in December, the Republicans’ document put much of the blame for economic crisis on the government and the two mortgage firms.
“At the time I thought it was necessary to sign onto a document that would have met the statutory reporting deadline required of the commission had we been able to muster six votes,” Hennessey posted on his blog. “My views are more fully and more accurately represented in the 27-page dissent you will see next week.”
The panel’s 10 congressionally appointed members come from backgrounds including finance, politics and economics. The six Democratic appointees voting for the final report include Angelides, the former California treasurer; Graham, the former senator; Brooksley Born, the former chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission; Byron Georgiou, a lawyer and investor; John W. Thompson, chairman of Symantec Corp.; and Heather H. Murren, a former managing director of Merrill Lynch & Co.
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