AIG's Chief Punching Bag Takes the Blows

All eyes, and sharp tongues, were directed at AIG Chairman Edward Liddy.
All eyes, and sharp tongues, were directed at AIG Chairman Edward Liddy. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
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By Dana Milbank
Thursday, March 19, 2009

Embattled AIG Chairman Edward Liddy was being ordered to name names.

"Send us the names of those who received bonuses who have not given them back," directed Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, at a subcommittee's ritual flaying yesterday of the profligate insurance company.

"I will, if I can be absolutely assured that they will remain confidential," bargained Liddy, who fiddled with his pen enough to blister his fingers.

"I won't give you that assurance," Frank said, threatening a subpoena.

The red-faced executive, voicing fear for the "safety of our people," looked down to read samples of death threats received, including: "All the executives and their families should be executed with piano wire around their necks."

"I am not persuaded," Frank said.

It had a whiff of congressional blackmail for AIG's bonus babies: Give back the money or your safety cannot be guaranteed. But, considering the public fury directed at the company this week over the $165 million in bonuses paid by the bailed-out insurer, Liddy might consider himself lucky that the lawmakers didn't take out some piano wire themselves.

They waited for up to eight hours for the chance to vent their rage at Liddy, who, though he's only a dollar-a-year man brought in to rescue the company, signed off on the taxpayer-funded bonuses.

"There's a tidal wave of rage throughout America," announced Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.). Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) called it a "travesty," Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) found AIG "morally reprehensible," Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) perceived "an insult," and Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) contributed the words "ridiculous" and "unconscionable."

The lawmakers couldn't quite agree on a solution for AIG; proposals included lawsuits, bankruptcy, tax legislation and fraud prosecution. Neither could they decide who deserved the blame, but it was hard to argue with Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) when he said, "There's plenty of blame to go around."

One thing they could agree on: their outrage. They traded expressions of this emotion in a sort of mass catharsis.

"I certainly join my constituents in their outrage," submitted Ron Klein (D-Fla.).

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