Fifth Amendment violations

The complaint in Hank Greenberg’s lawsuit against America is now online, and strange and entertaining in equal measures. I’m pretty sure Occupy Wall Street will be interested to hear his theory that the Constitution allows Fed bailouts of struggling financial institutions, but requires those bailouts to be much gentler than the one handed to AIG.

There is some sensible stuff here. Greenberg’s suit makes good use of the SIGTARP report finding that the government didn’t exactly conduct hard-nosed negotiations with AIG’s CDS counterparties. Instead, it bought off the assets covered by CDS at par (even though some of the counterparties might have accepted a haircut), tore up the CDS contracts, and waived any claims AIG might have against those counterparties. And the description of how the government avoided and ignored legal requirements to get a shareholder vote to authorize new shares for the government, and kind of maybe lied about it a bit in disclosure documents, is kind of interesting for shareholder-voting nerds, of whom there are about five and I am one.

But that’s all just a political smoke screen: lots of people are good and mad that the government funneled too much money through AIG to Goldman Sachs or Deutsche Bank or whatever, but pretty much zero of them think that money should have gone to Hank Greenberg instead. And lying in disclosure documents, like insider trading, isn’t a crime if the government does it.

Greenberg’s case really boils down to two claims. First is the constitutional argument that the bailout-in-exchange-for-equity was unconstitutional because “everyone else got a no strings attached bailout, so we should have gotten one too.” And “everyone” included “Libya”:

Throughout the global financial crisis, the Government allowed many domestic and foreign institutions access to the discount window. … [D]iscount window loans peaked at about $110 billion at the end of October 2008. Foreign banks borrowed approximately 70% of that amount; for example Dexia SA of Belgium borrowed about $33 billion; Dublin-based Depfa Bank, Plc, subsequently taken over by the German government, received approximately $25 billion; Bank of Scotland borrowed $11 billion; and Arab Banking Corp., 29% owned by the Libyan Central Bank at the time, received 73 different loans. Wachovia also borrowed $15 billion, and numerous investment banks were also granted access. At no time did the Federal Reserve Board require that it be given control of, or an equity stake in, these institutions. … If AIG had been given similar access to the Federal Reserve’s discount window or other sources of liquidity like these other institutions, AIG would easily have met its liquidity needs.

Well, okay. Maybe! The legal theory of “the constitution requires that anything you give to Libyans you have to give to me” is a bit untested – if true, I am planning to assert my Constitutional right to call down air strikes on my enemies (who are legion). Read more »

Remember September 2008? Remember how American International Group was doing in September 2008? Kind of not so hot? Maybe needed the government to front it some cash to the tune of $85 billion? Maybe needed even more money after that, even though they swore they just needed that one hit, just to get them by? Maybe would’ve been- how to say this?- fucked, if not thrown a bone? Well Hank Greenberg’s been thinking about September 2008, for a while now, and what he’s concluded is that as an AIG shareholder, he was screwed, big time. And, the window of opportunity for apologies being long closed, he figures the only way he can be made to feel better about the situation is for the US to cough up $25 billion. At least. Read more »