A big tar­get on his back: Law­mak­ers un­leash rage at AIG chief

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - By Joe Curl

The man hand-picked by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to over­see the re­cov­ery of Amer­i­can In­ter­na­tional Group Inc. just six months ago un­wit­tingly be­came the face of cor­po­rate greed and Wall Street hubris on March 18.

One by one, Capi­tol Hill Repub­li­cans and Democrats took aim at Ed­ward Liddy, dis­play­ing “out­rage” over $165 mil­lion in con­tract bonuses be­ing doled out to the com­pany’s top ex­ec­u­tives af­ter it tapped $170 bil­lion in fed­eral bailout cash.

“Do you have any­thing to say for your­self?” asked an ex­as­per­ated Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, Mas­sachusetts Demo­crat.

“Yes, sir, I do,” said Mr. Liddy, clench­ing and un­clench­ing his jaw. “As I men­tioned, th­ese con­tracts were all put to­gether be­fore I was at AIG. I would not have done th­ese con­tracts. [. . . ] I re­ally do take of­fense.”

“Of­fense was in­tended, sir,” Mr. Lynch snapped. “This is like the cap­tain and the crew re­serv­ing the lifeboats for them­selves and say­ing to hell with ev­ery­body else!”

Some law­mak­ers were so en­raged that they sput­tered out mixed me­taphors. “There’s a tidal wave of rage through­out Amer­ica right now, and it’s build- ing up, and it’s ex­press­ing it­self at this lat­est out­rage, which is re­ally just the tip of the ice­berg,” said Rep. Gary L. Ackerman, New York Demo­crat.

But the gray-haired man with the square jaw did not ap­pear cowed by his un­friendly con­fines and quickly gave law­mak­ers ex­actly what they wanted — a pound of flesh.

“I have asked the em­ploy­ees of AIG Fi­nan­cial Prod­ucts to step up and do the right thing,” Mr. Liddy told law­mak­ers gath­ered for a hear­ing in the Ray­burn House Of­fice Build­ing. “Specif­i­cally, I have asked those who re­ceived re­ten­tion pay­ments of $100,000 or more to re­turn at least half of those pay­ments.” Some, he said, had of­fered to re­turn all of their bonuses.

The dec­la­ra­tion was a stark de­par­ture from his pre­pared re­marks, which did not con­tain the dra­matic of­fer when House aides passed out Mr. Liddy’s open­ing state­ment an hour be­fore the hear­ing be­gan. That text was mostly con­cil­ia­tory, but the chief ex­ec­u­tive was oc­ca­sion­ally feisty and de­fi­ant dur­ing ques­tion­ing.

The day had all the mark­ing of a cir­cus — re­porters lined up two hours be­fore the hear­ing and TV crews roamed the hall­way in front of Room 2128. At one point, a tall, gray-haired man spot­ted at the far end of the hall sent the crews run­ning. But in the con­fu­sion, cam­eras and re­porters ended up sur­round­ing the short and bald­ing Zippy Du­vall, pres­i­dent of the Ge­or­gia Farm Bureau.

The an­ti­war Code Pink ladies were in the house to protest AIG, but the panel chair­man had lit­tle pa­tience for them and, bang­ing his gavel loudly, said: “Are you go­ing to sur­ren­der those signs so they can be held for you later on, or do you want to be re­moved from the room?” They handed over their signs.

“Given your method of deal­ing with this,” dead­panned Rep. Bar­ney Frank, Mas­sachusetts Demo­crat and chair­man of the House Com­mit­tee on Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices, “I as­sume it’s a good thing no one was wear­ing a Tshirt with their slo­gan.”

Law­mak­ers were bent on get- ting some cam­era time on the irk­some is­sue, and Rep. Paul E. Kan­jorski, Penn­syl­va­nia Demo­crat, said the day could be long be­cause “I as­sume there’s no­body at this hear­ing to­day that isn’t go­ing to want their five min­utes with Mr. Liddy.” He was right. From the mo­ment Mr. Liddy came into the large room, push­ing past cam­eras and caus­ing a deaf­en­ing shut­ter storm as he held his hand aloft to take the oath, law­mak­ers used ev­ery sec­ond of their al­lot­ted time speak­ing for the Amer­i­can peo­ple.

Many came with pre-writ­ten wit­ti­cisms.

“You know, as far as the Amer­i­can peo­ple are con­cerned, I think AIG now stands for ar­ro­gance, in­com­pe­tence and greed,” said Rep. Paul W. Hodes, New Hamp­shire Demo­crat.

Rep. David Scott, Ge­or­gia Demo­crat, said the bonuses are “a stone in Amer­ica’s shoe, and the Amer­i­can peo­ple are de­mand­ing that we get this stone out of our shoe.”

The re­lent­less knocks had to have left Mr. Liddy won­der­ing why he came out of a hard­earned re­tire­ment to take on the task, for which he is paid $1 a year.

ASTRID RIECKEN/THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

A new cause: With the war wan­ing in the news, Code Pink pro­test­ers turn their en­ergy on Ed­ward Liddy, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of AIG, as he ar­rives on Capi­tol Hill March 18.

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