WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve officials sharply criticized Bank of America and its chief executive, Kenneth Lewis, in emails to each other after the bank tried to pull out of its deal to buy troubled investment bank Merrill Lynch, according to documents unearthed by Congressional investigators.

During the December standoff between the big bank and top government officials, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke dismissed the threat as a "bargaining chip," Fed attorneys called the bank's arguments "not credible" and a top examiner said Mr. Lewis's own position "seems somewhat suspect."

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