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House panel grills Lehman chief about bonuses

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Waxman alleges bank had 'no accountability for failure' before collapse

WASHINGTON - The now-bankrupt investment bank Lehman Brothers arranged millions in bonuses for fired executives as it pleaded for a federal lifeline, lawmakers learned Monday, as Congress began investigating what went so wrong on Wall Street to prompt a $700 billion government bailout.The first in a series of congressional hearings on the roots of the financial meltdown yielded few major revelations about Lehman’s collapse, and none about why government officials, as they scrambled to avert economic catastrophe, declined to rescue the flagging company while injecting tens of billions of dollars into others.

But it allowed lawmakers still smarting from a politically painful vote Friday for the largest federal market rescue in history to put a face on their outrage at corporate chieftains who took home hundreds of millions of dollars while betting on risky mortgage-backed investments that ultimately brought the financial system to its knees.

That face was Richard S. Fuld Jr., the Lehman chief executive who sat for a two-hour-plus grilling before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee as the panel combed through his pay history, management practices and financial strategies.

“You made all this money by taking risks with other people’s money,” Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the panel’s chairman, said. “The system worked for you, but it didn’t seem to work for the rest of the country and the taxpayers, who now have to pay $700 billion to bail out our economy.”

A subdued Fuld opened his testimony declaring, “I take full responsibility for the decisions that I made and for the actions that I took,” but he conceded no errors or misjudgments in the chaotic period that led to the firm’s bankruptcy.

And he said a compensation system that he estimated paid him about $350 million between 2000 and 2007 even as the company headed for disaster was appropriate.

“We had a compensation committee that spent a tremendous amount of time making sure that the interests of the executives and the employees were aligned with shareholders,” Fuld said.

That wasn’t good enough for some lawmakers who decried what they called a culture of entitlement at Lehman even as the company’s performance nosedived.

The panel unearthed internal documents showing that on Sept. 11, Lehman planned to approve “special payments” worth $18.2 million for two executives who were terminated involuntarily, and another $5 million for one who was leaving on his own.

That was just four days before the government let Lehman go under, touching off a cascading series of financial shocks and failures that put Washington on track for the multibillion-dollar rescue the Bush administration urgently requested from Congress at the end of that week.

On Wall Street, uncertainty Monday about the effectiveness of the rescue sent the Dow Jones industrials sinking below 10,000 for the first time in four years. Investors fear the crisis will weigh down the global economy and the bailout won’t work quickly to loosen credit markets.

The bailout, now law, was so rushed that the usual congressional scrutiny is only coming now, after the fact.

“Although it comes too late to help Lehman Brothers, the so-called bailout program will have to make wrenching choices, picking winners and losers from a shattered and fragile economic landscape,” said Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, the committee’s senior Republican.

Fuld said Lehman did everything it could to limit its risks and save itself. It failed, he said, because of a “crisis in confidence” on Wall Street, market manipulation in which investors preyed on distressed financial players by betting on their demise, and would-be buyers who waited for the government to step in to help fund a sale.

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I watched some of this live on CNN earlier and my smile got bigger every time the maggot squirmed. Come to my poor ass for a handout when you have an art collection worth millions..... wow fuck off buddy


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                                               Look at the flowers

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