I listened in everybo at goldman did it was a

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analysts to explain the firm’s involvement in the government bailout of AIG. I listened in; everybody at Goldman did. It was a masterful performance under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. As the
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experts peppered Viniar with questions, he succeeded in making a two-pronged, essentially self- contradictory argument: that Goldman Sachs, which was owed billions of dollars related to credit- default swaps with AIG, had hedged itself to such a degree that we would have been just fine if AIG had gone bankrupt—but also that Goldman had been completely justified in accepting $12.9 billion, a hundred cents on the dollar, in AIG’s bailout money. You see, AIG had insured Goldman’s mortgage securities, and when the mortgage market crashed, Goldman wanted to get its insurance money—even though we were shorting the market. The firm had doubled down on the collapse, and like any policy holder, we wanted our money. People within the firm and on Wall Street say Viniar is the best CFO in the world. I’ve often thought that if I had to send someone into the arena for me, David Viniar would be right at the top of the list. He has a ploy that he’s famous for, the verbal equivalent of Gary Cohn’s in-your-face, foot- on-the-desk move: when some research analyst asks him a tough question—“David, do you think these numbers and those numbers equate to four billion dollars?”—Viniar will just give a one-word answer: “No.” Or, “Yes.” Or, if he feels like being more exact: “Actually, it’s three point eight billion dollars.” No further elaboration. A deep silence follows. Then the same thing always happens: the poor analyst gets so flustered with the silence and lack of detailed response, that he eventually thanks Viniar. To which Viniar always gives the same two-word response: “You’re welcome.” Which a lot of people at Goldman consider corporate-speak for “Fuck you.” Viniar has given the guy nothing; now he’s telling him to go fuck himself. Anytime Viniar did a conference call, I dialed in. The guy was a gladiator. Everybody on the trading floor had listened in, enraptured, to this particular conference call: Goldman was still struggling for its life, and this was the man we’d sent into battle to fight our fight. Wartime Britons hearing Winston Churchill must have felt much the same way. And I’m sure everyone else felt the same triumph I felt at Viniar’s ability to tackle these insanely complex questions calmly and cogently. In the heat of the crisis, the instinct of every Goldman employee was still to defend the firm. But a funny thing happened: as time passed, Viniar’s argument began to emit a certain odor, and it wasn’t the fragrance of roses, freshly baked bread, or crisp hundred-dollar bills. It was the distinct odor of conflict of interest. The CFO’s contention that taxpayers would’ve been hurt if Goldman Sachs had taken less than a hundred cents on the dollar for AIG’s debt sounded less and less convincing as 2009 ran its remarkable course.
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