What It’s Like To Get Grilled By The New York Attorney General


Today was the day that Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis got dragged in for questioning by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

Having had the pleasure of being dragged in for questioning by a New York Attorney General before, we think we know what Ken Lewis went through.

This morning, before the proceedings, we imagined what Ken Lewis had to look forward to:

  • Ken Lewis will be ushered into a cramped, dingy conference room with a fold-up type table and fold-up-type chairs–with the furniture choices and decor designed to tell Ken Lewis he’s not in Kansas anymore.
  • The room’s temperature will either be much too hot or much too cold.
  • Ken Lewis and his lawyers will sit on one side of the fold-up table. Andrew Cuomo’s investigators will sit on the other side.  (Cuomo will not demean himself by asking questions of the CEO of the country’s biggest bank. One big purpose of this undertaking, after all, is to remind Ken Lewis who’s the daddy.)
  • Cuomo’s investigators will try to hide the fact that they are really excited about being able to interrogate the CEO of the country’s biggest bank.
  • Ken Lewis will try even harder to hide the fact that he knows that Cuomo’s investigators are really excited about being able to interrogate the CEO of the country’s biggest bank.
  • The court reporter will swear Ken Lewis in.  As he raises his right hand and says “I do,” Ken Lewis will shudder at the thought of making a mistake and being sent away for perjury.
  • Cuomo’s investigators will ask Ken Lewis a few dozen boring set-up questions, such as his name, his address, and what he does at Bank of America.  As he answeres those questions, Ken Lewis will fear that he is mispelling his name and will get sent to the Big House.  Then Cuomo’s investigators will finally get on with it and and Ken Lewis what he knew about those bonus payments and losses.
  • Ken Lewis’s attorneys will ask Cuomo’s investigators to clarify the question.
  • Ken Lewis’s attorneys and Cuomo’s investigators will argue for 15 minutes about whether Ken Lewis can answer that question.  Eventually, Ken Lewis’s attorneys will relent.
  • Ken Lewis will ask Cuomo’s investigators to repeat the question.
  • Cuomo’s investigators will repeat the question.
  • Ken Lewis will give a short, careful answer that is not what Cuomo’s investigators are looking for.
  • Cuomo’s investigators will ask the same question in 900 different ways.  They will also employ clever Perry Mason-type tricks designed to get Ken Lewis to incriminate himself, such as the following: “Mr. Lewis, when you lied to Congress about what you knew about the bonuses and losses, did you do it because you were scared you would lose your job or because you didn’t think it was any of Congress’ business?”  (Correct answer: “Neither.  I told Congress the truth.”)
  • Every 45 minutes, there will be a break, during which each team will huddle in its respective corner (Ken Lewis’s “corner” will probably be the coffee shop in the lobby.  Cuomo’s corner will probably be his office, where he will get a full download on how the interrogation is going.)  Ken Lewis’s team will pump him full of energy bars, caffeine, and other performance-enhancing drugs to make sure he doesn’t blow it in the next round.  Cuomo’s team will try to figure out a new way to lead Ken Lewis into a trap and get him to say something incriminating.  The interrogation will resume.
  • All day long, Ken Lewis will feel like a soccer goalie in a sudden-death shootout: One careless answer and he’s toast.  Team Cuomo, meanwhile, can shoot away until they just can’t think of anything else to ask.  (This, after all, is perhaps the only public-private sector interaction other than the DMV in which the low-paid public servants actually have the upper hand).
  • If Cuomo’s investigators manage to get Ken Lewis to say something vaguely incriminating, they’ll send the transcript to Charlie Gasparino. 

If, as he says, Ken Lewis really didn’t know anything about those bonus payments or losses, he doesn’t really have much to worry about.  Unless, that is, he cracks under the pressure.