In his prepared remarks, with protesters holding up signs behind him, Blankfein thanked American taxpayers for the bank's $10 billion bailout from the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program that began at the height of the financial crisis in 2008. Blankfein acknowledged that many people are "understandably angry about how Wall Street contributed to the financial crisis."
Later, under questioning from Sen. John Tester, D-Mont., Blankfein conceded that Goldman was "embarrassed" by the bailout.
"We got funds from the government and it's an embarrassing situation then and it's embarrassing now," he said.
Blankfein also specifically addressed the SEC's lawsuit, reiterating his firm's rebuttal of the complaint.
He called the day the SEC announced the charges "one of the worst days" of his professional life and said the bank has to do "a better job of striking the balance between what an informed client believes is important to his or her investing goals and what the public believes is overly complex and risky."
Committee aides said the panel obtained about 2 million documents during its investigation, including internal Goldman e-mails. E-mails from June 2007 showed that bank officials believed that a transaction known as Timberwolf was "one sh**ty deal."
Earlier during today's hearing, Levin asked other Goldman witnesses about that and other e-mails.
"When you heard that your employees in these e-mails are looking at these deals said, 'God, what a sh**ty deal. God, what a piece of crap, when you hear your own employees and read about those e-mails, do you feel anything?" he asked Goldman chief financial officer David Vinair this afternoon.
"I think that's very unfortunate to have on e-mail," Vinair said, prompting laughter from the audience attending the hearing. Vinair quickly corrected himself, adding, "I think it's very unfortunate for anyone to have said that in any form."
"How about to believe that and sell it?" Levin pressed.
"I think that's unfortunate as well," Vinair replied.
Vinair's testimony was markedly different from that of Daniel Sparks, a former partner and head of the mortgages department at Goldman Sachs, who joined three other current and former Goldman employees in the first part of the subcommittee's hearings this morning.
"Your top priority is to sell that sh**ty deal!" Levin said, holding up the series of e-mails. "Come on, Mr. Sparks! Would Goldman Sachs be trying to sell -- and by the way, it sold it, a lot of it, after that date -- should Goldman Sachs be trying to sell the sh**ty deal? Well, can you answer that one yes or no?"
"There are prices in the market that people want to invest in things," Sparks answered. "I didn't use that term with respect to that deal."
Senators from both sides of the aisle expressed frustration today with what they said were evasive answers by Sparks and others who argued that the bets they made against the housing market were part of the firm's efforts to manage investment risks.
"I cannot help but get the feeling that a strategy of the witnesses is to try to burn through the time of each questioner," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.
While some of the Goldman witnesses who testified this morning conceded that they made mistakes, they denied wrongdoing.
"We did not cause the financial crisis," said Michael Swenson, a managing director at the firm.