WASHINGTON — He came, he saw, he conquered.
Jamie Dimon, the chairman and chief executive of JPMorgan Chase (JPM) easily won a Senate Banking Committee hearing on Wednesday probing the more than $2 billion loss at his firm, signaling that his star status on Capitol Hill remains relatively unchanged despite ongoing questions about the unusual trades.
But it wasn't much of a fight.
Far from facing tough questions from skeptical lawmakers, Dimon's inquisitors — with a few notable exceptions — lobbed a series of softballs. Some senators seemed almost obsequious to the JPMorgan chief, dismissing his own admissions of fault and seeking his advice on ways to reform existing regulations.
"We can hardly sit in judgment of your losing $2 billion," said Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. "We lose twice that every day here in Washington… It's comforting to know that even with a $2 billion loss in a trade, your company still had a $19 billion profit."
Later, DeMint asked Dimon for help.
"I'm really honestly looking for some ideas as we look over the next year and hopefully in a position where we can make some positive changes," said DeMint, referring to the possibility that the GOP could win control of the Senate in the November elections.
Although Senate Democrats had more to gain from challenging Dimon in an effort to bolster their defense of the Dodd-Frank Act, most demurred. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., sought Dimon's input as "somebody who knows the financial industry," on whether other firms engage in the same types of activities that got JPMorgan into trouble. But he did so while seemingly going out of his way to praise the bank.
"What frightens most people about what happened is not the effect on JPMorgan," Schumer said. "It's a large institution, well capitalized and the shareholders lost, but the taxpayers and customers didn't."
The parade of easy questions brought disdain from political observers and many in the media.
"Schumer is basically asking Dimon for advice on regulation now," tweeted John Carney, who runs the NetNet blog for CNBC. "It's regulatory capture happening right before our eyes."
As for the man himself, Dimon appeared sure and confident — in essence, like he usually does. Perhaps the strongest signal that he had his mojo back was his extended, passionate defense of mega-banks, which have come under increasing fire because they can be hard to manage and to regulate.
"There is a place for large companies and for small companies," Dimon said. "We bank some of the largest global multinationals in America and around the world. We can bank companies in 40 different countries. We do trade finance. We give intra-day lines of billions of dollars to some of the biggest companies. We can do $5 billion revolvers or raise money for America's Fortune 100 companies in a day or two when they needed to do something."
"These are services they need," Dimon continued. "They buy them because they need them. They don't buy them because we want them to buy them."
Dimon did allow that there are some negatives to size. "You know, greed, arrogance, hubris, lack of attention to detail," he said.
But even that admission was deflated later when Dimon asserted that small institutions can be plagued by the same problems, and Republican Sen. Jerry Moran turned the statement about arrogance and hubris into a laugh line about the U.S. Senate.