As we've explained here before, the government didn't just give all that TARP money away to those 579 banks for nothing: it got warrants to buy stock in the banks at certain prices over a ten-year time horizon. And as we informed you last month, no sooner did the banks start making noises about repaying the TARP money did they also begin referring to the cash they were forking over to buy back said warrants as a supposed "early repayment penalty" and angling for a discount on buying them back. JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon brought up the issue with Barack Obama himself, while a little bank in West Virginia called Centra sent its CEO and vice president on the media circuit blasting the "penalty" as usurous and "un-American."
But would the Treasury Department really cave to this spin by giving banks that repaid TARP funds early another subsidy? The answer appears to be "yes," at least on the basis of the deal it cut with Indiana's Old National Bancorp, which bought back an estimated $5.81 million worth of warrants last week for the bargain price of $1.2 million, terms a Bloomberg analysis estimates could shortchange taxpayers to the tune of $10 billion. A source tells TPM Neil Barofksy, the special inspector general assigned to oversee the TARP, plans to "soon" add a special audit into the warrant repurchases to the six separate audits of various eyebrow-raising aspects of the bailout already underway at his office. Only three banks have exited the TARP have bought back their warrants thus far -- with disturbing (though strangely mixed) results.
While guest-hosting Bill Bennett's radio show today, RNC Chairman Michael Steele complained that President Obama was never thoroughly vetted by the media -- especially on the matter of his ideology and his connections to Jeremiah Wright -- because the media wanted the black candidate to win:
"He was not vetted, because the press fell in love with the black man running for the office," said Steele. "Oh gee, wouldn't it be neat to do that? Gee, wouldn't it make all of our liberal guilt just go away? We can continue to ride around in our limousines and feel so lucky to live in an America with a black president."
At her weekly press briefing today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi cited the bipartisan creation of a Pecora-like Financial Markets Commission as a signal achievement of the 111th Congress. The Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act--signed into law by the President this week--creates a 10-member panel to investigate the causes of the financial crisis. Crucially, two of those 10 members will be appointed by the Speaker and, this morning, Pelosi suggested she has her eyes on at least one Republican.
No word yet on who that Republican might be.
The restrictions on who can be appointed are actually fairly limited. The bill requires that members must be U.S. citizens with experience in fields like banking, market regulation, taxation, finance, economics, and housing; and further specifies that current members of Congress and and other government employees are automatically disqualified.
That leaves a great number of experts, frauds, and thieves eligible for service. So whether or not Pelosi picks a Republican, now might be a good time to place bets on whether GOP leaders will appoint this guy to be the commission's vice chair.
For a while now, it's been clear that, as former FBI interrogator Ali Soufan testified earlier this month, Abu Zubaydah was tortured well before the Justice Department issued its first opinion approving enhanced interrogation techniques in August 2002.
So we've been wondering about the procedure by which that treatment was authorized. And it looks like a crucial new report from NPR may have offered an answer.
On Wednesday, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to deny President Obama the funds he needs to shutter the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The stall may be temporary, but many are convinced that it's yet another example of the tired political dynamic in post-9/11 Washington whereby Democrats cave to cowing Republicans the moment the conversation turns to terrorism.
Two weeks ago, though, the GOP got a little bit ahead of itself. "Do you know of any community in the United States of America that would welcome terrorists -- former terrorists, would-be terrorists, people trained as terrorists -- that have been incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay into any community in this country?" asked Sen. Richard Shelby (R-KY).
The question was directed at Attorney General Eric Holder, who basically punted. But it turns out there are at least a few communities in the country that might just welcome a suspected terrorist or two to stay for a while.
The Democratic attacks are starting to fly in this year's New Jersey gubernatorial race against former U.S. Attorney and current Republican candidate Chris Christie -- even though Christie hasn't actually won the Republican nomination yet, and is still facing an insurgent conservative candidate in the June 2 primary. It could be an effort to throw the primary to Christie's opponent -- or at least soften him up for the general.
A Democratic 527 group, the Mid-Atlantic Leadership Fund, is now running this attack ad accusing Christie of corruption -- that Christie awarded a no-bid government contract to a former U.S. Attorney who had previously declined to file charges against Christie's brother in a Wall Street scandal:
"Selective prosecutions, contracts for political allies," the announcer says. "Tell Chris Christie to cooperate with investigators, and tell Congress to end pay-to-play justice."
We're starting to get a rich picture of the four hapless Jihadis who were arrested Wednesday night for plotting to bomb two New York synagogues, as well as the FBI informant who deceived them. And the overall portrait that's emerging is that of a group of struggling, disaffected petty criminals, who bonded at a Newburgh, NY mosque over having spent time in prison, before being taken in by a Pakistani immigrant looking to win leniency for a crime of his own.
There's little doubt the bumbling would-be bombers went far enough with the plot to demonstrate that they had the intention to commit terror, and for that they'll pay the price. But the whole tale comes off perhaps more as a sad glimpse into the lives of a loose group of aimless and obscurely embittered Americans than as a dire illustration of the threat of home-grown terrorism.
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It's been a fun week for Sen. Vitter (R-LA), the Christian-right champion whose career became bogged down in the D.C. Madam prostitution scandal in 2007. Here's what happened:
â¢ It was briefly floated that former state Elections Commissioner Suzanne Terrell (R), who narrowly lost the 2002 Senate race to Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu, was considering a GOP primary challenge after Vitter had delayed the confirmation of the new head of FEMA.
â¢ Just as quickly as she'd put her name out, Terrell put out a statement endorsing Vitter -- just as previous potential primary challengers like Tony Perkins or John Cooksey have done before her.
â¢ Porn star Stormy Daniels formed an exploratory committee to run against Vitter. Daniels has said in the past that people are looking for honesty and integrity in their leaders -- meaning that her campaign would likely be a platform to remind voters about Vitter's indiscretions and hypocrisy.
A Republican source told me that they're feeling fine about Vitter. "We're confident he's gonna be fine, we're confident that he's gonna win," the source said. "He still enjoys high approval ratings, he spends a lot of time in the state talking about what's important to his constituents."