Remember the brouhaha last week over Ken Lewis’s testimony to New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo about the government forcing his hand to close the acquisition of Merrill Lynch without disclosing losses to Bank of America’s shareholders? It was the confession that launched a thousand inquiries into whether Hank Paulson or Ben Bernanke was behind the government’s threat to remove Lewis if he backed away from the deal and whether Lewis should have resigned in protest rather than sacrifice shareholder interests to regulators demands.
Well, apparently we’re not supposed to remember that at all. Down at that Charlotte, North Carolina Bank of America shareholder meeting Lewis just said that decision to buy Merrill was made independently of any government influence.
Lewis was challenged by a shareholder who read from the code of ethics of the company and then asked why the CEO felt he was entitled to save his job by siding with the government. “I don’t understand how a code of ethics allows you to say my job is more important,” the shareholder said. “You knew what was going on with Merrill Lynch. You kept it from us. You’re still keeping it from us. … It’s a disgrace. … You have violated the code of ethics.”
Lewis said the bank’s decision was independent of any government threat, according to the Charlotte Observer. “You have your facts wrong,” he said.
Our old friend Bess Levin of DealBreaker has the best response: “Is Ken even trying to make his stories match up or just saying fuck it, let’s have some fun?”