EXCERPT: Henry M. Paulson Jr.'s: 'On the Brink'

Lockhart had been skillfully working to get his examiners to come up with language they could live with. But on Thursday they still had not done enough to document the capital problems. We sent in more help. Sheila Bair, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which had ample experience in closing banks, agreed to send me her best person to help write a case. Finally, Lockhart managed to get his examiners to sign off on what we needed. Either Jim had worn those examiners down or they had come to realize that immediate conservatorship was the best way for them to resolve this dangerous situation with their reputations intact.

Thursday evening, Jim put in calls to the CEOs of Fannie and Freddie, summoning them to a meeting Friday afternoon that Ben and I would attend at FHFA's headquarters on G Street. (Jim didn't speak directly to Mudd until Friday morning.) We arranged for the first meeting to start just before 4:00 p.m. so that the market would be closed by the time it ended. We decided to lead with Fannie Mae, figuring they were more likely to be contentious.

The companies obviously knew something was up, and it didn't take long for me to start getting blowback. Dan Mudd called me on Friday morning and got straight to the point. "Hank," he asked, "what's going on? We've done all you asked. We've been cooperative. What's this about?" "Dan," I said, "if I could tell you, I wouldn't be calling the meeting."

We'd been operating in secrecy and had managed to avoid any leaks for several weeks, which may be a record for Washington. To keep everyone in the dark, we resorted to a little cloak-and-dagger that afternoon. I drove to FHFA with Kevin Fromer, my assistant secretary for legislative affairs, and Jim Wilkinson, my chief of staff, and instead of hopping out at the curb, we went straight into the building's parking garage to avoid being seen. Unfortunately, Ben Bernanke walked in the front door and was spotted by a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, who posted word on the paper's website.

We met the rest of our teams on the fourth fl oor. FHFA's offices were a contrast to those at the Fed and Treasury, which are grand and spacious, with lots of marble, high ceilings, and walls lined with elegant paintings. FHFA's offices were drab and cramped, the floors clad in thin office carpet.

As planned, we arrived a few minutes early, and as soon as I saw Lockhart I pulled him aside to buck him up. He was ready but shaky. This was a big step for him. Our fi rst meeting was with Fannie in a conference room adjacent to Jim's offi ce. We'd asked both CEOs to bring their lead directors. Fannie chairman Stephen Ashley and general counsel Beth Wilkinson accompanied Mudd. He also brought the company's outside counsel, H. Rodgin Cohen, chairman of Sullivan & Cromwell and a noted bank lawyer, who'd flown down hastily from New York.

Between our group from Treasury, the Fed's team, Lockhart's people, and Fannie's executives, there must have been about a dozen people in the glass-walled conference room, spread around the main table and arrayed along the walls.

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