Federal Reserve Board officials sharply criticized Bank of America Corp. and its chief executive, Kenneth Lewis, in e-mails to each other after the company tried to pull out of its deal to buy the troubled investment bank Merrill Lynch & Co., according to documents unearthed by congressional investigators.

During the December standoff between B of A and top government officials, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke dismissed the threat as a "bargaining chip," according to the e-mails. Fed lawyers called the Charlotte company's arguments "not credible," and a top examiner said Lewis' own position "seems somewhat suspect."

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