TPM News

As we said, Barney Frank's committee has posted the CEOs' prepared statements on its website.

We're watching the hearings, which just began, but feel free to look through what the prepared remarks and send us anything good...

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts may recuse himself from an upcoming ruling. Pharmaceuticals giant Wyeth was charged with negligence in a tort case related to the loss of a patient's arm that was argued before the court last November, and is also the acquisition target of Pfizer, a company in which Chief Justice Roberts owns stock. The court decision would likely affect the value of Wyeth and therefore Pfizer's value as well. Justice Roberts' decision will likely set the precedent for these types of conflicts of interest. (

In a federal corruption trial yesterday, former Pennsylvania state Sen. Vincent Fumo (D) defended a secret $17 million gift from a utility company to a charity run by his aides, arguing that it benefitted consumers. The charity's main operations involve street cleaning and economic development work in Fumo's district. Prosecutors allege that Fumo embezzled more than $1 million from the charity using its vehicles and credit cards. (Associated Press)

A well-known anti-tobacco attorney pleaded guilty yesterday to mail fraud in a case that involved the attempted bribery of a judge. Richard Scruggs, the brother-in-law of former Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS), tried to get a county circuit judge to rule in his favor by telling him he could get him appointed to the federal bench with Lott's help. Lott himself has not been accused of any wrongdoing in the matter. (Associated Press)

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The CEOs of the eight banks that received the most bailout money are about to testify before the House Financial Services committee, starting any minute. But the committee has already posted the CEOs' prepared statements on its website.

Here are some highlights:

Bank of America's Ken Lewis will say that executive pay and bonuses are intended "to grow our business, enhance profitability and generate returns for investors." That includes "the investors that are the focus of this hearing: U.S. taxpayers."

Citigroup's Vikram Pandit will say that he "removed the people responsible for Citi's financial distress."

JP Morgan Chase's Jamie Dimon will advocate a new bank regulatory system, which would include a "systemic risk regulator."

On compensation, Dimon will say:

Our employees worked harder than ever and performed admirably for the company and for clients under enormously challenging conditions in 2008. I believe the compensation we paid them was appropriate.

We'll be blogging the hearings as they happen, so stay tuned...

As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) jockeys with the Senate to preserve elements of her chamber's economic recovery plan, health insurance benefits are one of the major issues that need to be reconciled.

The House stimulus provides $40 billion to create a 65% government subsidy for COBRA, the health insurance program for unemployed Americans -- but the Senate centrists sliced that in half for their stimulus, cutting COBRA to $21 billion or a 50% subsidy.

The worthiness of maintaining the House's 65% COBRA subsidy is clear to anyone who's ever paid to maintain employer-sponsored health benefits after leaving a job. COBRA is prohibitively expensive for even those in two-income families, and slicing the subsidy would put the coverage out of many people's financial reach.

But how many people would get health care under the 65% subsidy? Pelosi asked the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office that question, and she got her answer last night.

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Congressional Dems Ironing Out Stimulus Plan Congressional Democrats worked hard last night to negotiate differences between the House and Senate stimulus plans. Nancy Pelosi downplayed the idea of restoring the greater spending increases in the House version: "You cannot allow the perfect to be the enemy of the effective and of the necessary, and we will not."

Obama's Day Ahead President Obama is hitting the trail again to promote his stimulus package, this time holding an 11 a.m. ET visit to a construction site in Springfield, Virginia, accompanied by Governor Tim Kaine. Then at 3 p.m. ET he'll be meeting in the Oval Office with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Biden Promoting Stimulus Package In Pennsylvania Vide President Biden is visiting Pennsylvania today, where he'll be campaigning for the stimulus package alongside Governor Ed Rendell. First up is a 1:10 p.m. ET photo opportunity at the Route 34 Bridge in Carlisle, to promote the need to improve existing infrastructure. Biden and Rendell will then speak in Harrisburg at 2:10 p.m. ET.

Crist: "I'm Trying To Be Practical" About Stimulus Governor Charlie Crist (R-FL) told The Hill that he's not trying to undercut Congressional Republicans with his appearance alongside President Obama to promote the stimulus plan. However, he also says: "obviously, this bill's passing, so I'm trying to be practical and pragmatic and make sure Florida gets its share."

Franken And Coleman Both Visiting Washington Al Franken and Norm Coleman are both spending time in Washington today. Franken is in D.C. in order to prepare for being a Senator, while Coleman is in town for an NRSC fundraiser for his legal effort.

Dingell Is Longest-Serving House Member Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) has now become the longest-serving member of the House, beating the record of 53 years and two months that were previously set by conservative Democrat Jamie Whitten of Mississippi. In an interview with the Washington Post, Dingell brushed off the recent loss of his chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee: "I'll be up again, don't worry. And I'll find things to do."

Hoekstra Defends Himself After Twittering Overseas Trip Rep. Pete Hoekstra is defending himself from criticism after he Twittered during his trip with a Congressional delegation to Iraq and Afghanistan, thus making public the movements of the delegation in the middle of a conflict zone. A spokeswoman told CQ that Hoekstra did not harm the delegation's security, and that he had not signed on to any agreement to not discuss details of the trip.

Palin Skipping CPAC Sarah Palin will not be attending this year's Conservative Political Action Conference, apparently because the schedule conflicts with Alaska's legislative session. Other potential 2012 Republican candidates, including Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney, will be in attendance.

Memo To Virginia GOP Chairman: Some Things You Don't Twitter We usually don't cover obscure state politics, but this is too much. Virginia Republican chairman ruined a bid by the party to get a Democratic state Senator to switch parties and flip control of the chamber. How did he ruin it? By Twittering the secret negotiations!

Last week, President Obama announced the members of his new Economic Recovery Advisory Board.

And one of the names piqued our interest:

Robert Wolf, Chairman & CEO, UBS Group Americas

That's because UBS isn't exactly the kind of company you'd expect Obama might want to associate with just at the moment. It's the subject of a widening federal investigation, being conducted by both DOJ and the IRS, into its offshore private banking services, focused on allegations that it helped an estimated 19,000 wealthy clients evade billions in taxes.

Last fall, Raoul Weil, who ran the firm's global wealth management and business banking division, was indicted in connection with the alleged scheme.

A few months earlier, a former UBS exec, Bradley Birkenfeld, pleaded guilty to helping a client evade millions of dollars in federal income taxes while with the firm.

Of course, there's no indication that Wolf had any connection to the alleged scheme. But it's worth noting that he and Weil did serve together on UBS's Group Executive Board. So it's not like they don't know each other, it appears. (Weil stepped down from the board temporarily after his indictment.)

You'd think President Obama could have rounded out his advisory board with someone from a firm that's not under federal investigation for helping rich people cheat on their taxes -- especially given the current financial climate. Guess not.

On a conference call just now with reporters, lead Franken lawyer Marc Elias declared that the campaign isn't done yet with the voters whose ballots weren't counted under the election court's ruling today, which allowed two-dozen Franken backers' previously-rejected votes in.

Elias explained that some of the petitioners will simply have to go back and provide further affidavits and information to the court, in order to demonstrate the validity of their case. "We think that all 61 of them should be counted," said Elias. "We're pleased that the court was as careful as it was in parsing through these voters one at a time."

Elias also expressed some confidence that the world of ballots from Coleman will be shrinking, noting that ballots are being withdrawn at a faster clip as the court's rulings serve as guideposts for where things will be going, and also that both sides have agreed to drop their complaints on behalf of absentee ballots that were rejected because they arrived by mail after the election.

Elias did have one regret, though, when a reporter asked if he would do anything differently. "Packed more winter clothes," Elias said. "I didn't expect to be in Minneapolis as long as when I first came out here. But no, I don't think there's anything else that I would have done differently."

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In the wake of Tim Geithner's speech this morning, laying out the Treasury's plan, such as it is, for Bailout 3.0, most smart observers have concluded that the Obama administration has at least left the door open for a possible nationalization of failed banks at some point, if it decides circumstances warrant that step.

But in an interview with ABC News' Nighline, set to air tonight, the president seemed to all but rule out that idea. He told ABC:

[Sweden"] took over the banks, nationalized them, got rid of the bad assets, resold the banks and a couple years later, they were going again. So you'd think looking at it, Sweden looks like a good model. Here's the problem -- Sweden had like five banks," he said, laughing. "We've got thousands of banks. You know, the scale of the U.S. economy and the capital markets are so vast and the, the problems in terms of managing and overseeing anything of that scale, I think, would -- our assessment was that it wouldn't make sense. And we also have different traditions in this country.

True, Obama, like Geithner, has always seemed skeptical of nationalization. But his answer to ABC would appear to go further than he yet has in declaring that he'll avoid adopting any version of that approach.

Of course, things might look different once we get done with these "stress tests," and find out how many major banks are truly insolvent. But as of now, the president seems dead set against even short term nationalization.

When a new president comes in, he usually replaces all 93 US attorneys with his own nominees. But, in what could be bad news for Rod Blagojevich, at least one high-profile US Attorney won't be asked to step down, it looks like.

NBC News reports that Patrick Fitzgerald, the no-nonsense U.S. attorney for Chicago, will stay on under President Obama, despite being a Bush appointee.

Fitzgerald is preparing an indictment against the former Illinois governor. He also served as the special prosecutor in the Valerie Plame leak case, in which Scooter Libby was convicted of perjury.

The new administration has asked all the US the current Republican-appointed U.S. attorneys to stay on in the short term, while it decides which to retain. But it has already made a decision on Fitzgerald, it appears.

The suggestion to keep Fitz, who has been in the job since 2001, was made by Sen. Dick Durbin, who's close to Obama. Durbin's suggestion was "positively received," according to DOJ officials, as well as aides to Durbin.

The decision is not unexpected, since replacing Fitzgerald while he's in the midst of a high-profile and long-running probe of his state's former governor, would likely have generated an outcry.

Coleman lawyer/spin-man Ben Ginsberg made a stunning announcement at this evening's press conference: Stearns County now reports that they've found seven new ballots.

"That's another significant development, showing the inaccuracy of the canvassing board total," Ginsberg said, "and we feel good about the votes that will be coming in."

This comes after two other pro-Coleman counties, Washington and Anoka, were finding similarly small numbers of missing ballots late last week, events that the Coleman campaign cheered. (Stearns voted 46%-34% for Coleman.)

These ballots could all indeed be legitimately lost and now found. Unfortunately, there's always room for human error in a recount involving 2.9 million ballots. But think for a second about what the spin would be on Fox News if the roles were reversed -- if Franken's team was currently behind, and boasting about newly-found votes coming in dribs and drabs.

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