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The BofA sideshow

Pay no attention to the folks in front of the TV cameras. That’s the way you should view today’s Congressional hearing into whether federal regulators pressured Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis to follow through on the bank’s acquisition of Merrill Lynch.

Frankly, it really doesn’t matter whether Fed Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson threatened Lewis to carry through on his commitment to buy Merrill on the eve of Lehman Brothers bankruptcy. Based on the pieces of leaked emails to a select group of reporters, there is evidence that Bernanke and Paulson did do a lot of arm-twisting. 

But it’s not clear whether Bernanke and Paulson gave Lewis any kind of ultimatum.  Still, does it really matter?

I’m all for more transparency–both from the government and Wall Street banks–and it’s probably good if we get a fuller accounting of what transpired in those hectic the-house-is-on-fire months. But this is the thing: there’s still no evidence that anyone from the federal government was holding a gun to Lewis’ head when he and John Thain shook hands on the merger just as Lehman was spinning towards bankruptcy.  

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