Eliot Spitzer, William Black, and Frank Partnoy wrote an interesting Op-Ed in the NYT this weekend arguing that AIG should immediately publish all of its emails (excepting private and privileged ones).
The resulting “open-source” investigation that followed, they argue, would allow taxpayers to get to the bottom of the appalling AIG bailout last fall.
I agree wholeheartedly that US taxpayers deserve to know what really happened when Tim Geithner charged to Wall Street’s rescue and guaranteed AIG’s credit default swaps and bonds to the tune of 100 cents on the dollar. This, it seems, was a huge mistake, and taxpayers have every right to understand how it went down.
That said, I don’t think just publishing all of AIG’s emails is the right way to go. Emails are an important part of corporate investigations, but when the goal is to figure out what really happened, they’re only one piece of the puzzle. They are also very easy to take out of context. (Who hasn’t reacted to news in email one way and then later, after discussing the issue in meetings and phone calls, come to a different conclusion?)
Thus, if the goal is to figure out what happened at AIG, simply publishing hundreds of thousands of AIG-related emails would only be a first step. It would also likely raise more questions than it answered.
Where I agree with Spitzer, Black, and Partnoy is that taxpayers deserve to know how they got so completely screwed. A complete investigation of the interactions between AIG, the Treasury, the Fed, and the New York Fed, therefore, is justified, and it should involve not only emails but voicemails, memos, meetings, phone logs, and testimony. The government should launch one immediately.
Dylan Ratigan had Eliot and me on the Morning Meeting this morning to discuss this: