Webster's dictionary defines a threat as "an expression of intention to hurt, destroy, punish, etc., as in retaliation or intimidation," but to Bank of America Corp. chief executive Kenneth Lewis, things were not so clear-cut.A hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Thursday was supposed to probe B of A's shaky merger with Merrill Lynch. It instead turned into a discussion of the definition of the word "threat."
Several lawmakers press Lewis to admit he was threatened by Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke and Henry Paulson, the former Treasury secretary. According to Lewis, Paulson told him that Bernanke was prepared to fire B of A's management and board if it pulled out of its deal to buy Merrill.
But Lewis consistently refused to characterize this as a "threat."
"It's hard to find the exact right word to describe" what went on, Lewis said.
But finding the right word was not a problem for lawmakers.
"Can it be looked at in any way other than a threat?" asked Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.
Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., was more colorful. "If this isn't a threat, what would be considered a threat?" he asked. "Kidnap the family dog? Release your college GPA scores? What is a threat if this is not a threat?"
But Lewis did not want to go there. "I'm just trying to describe the circumstances, and not put one word to it myself," he replied.
Flake then tried a more subtle approach. "We would like a candid answer here," he said. "I don't know if you could wiggle your pinky finger at us — give us some sign no one else would see."
Lewis was not the only one on a hot seat last week. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank turned the tables on his CNBC interviewers, who appeared openly critical of a bill the Massachusetts Democrat was pushing to give shareholders a nonbinding vote on executive compensation.What finally provoked Frank's wrath was an exchange with CNBC anchor Mark Haines.
Haines was trying to argue that the bill was not feasible since many shareholder are at arm's length from the company — a point with which Frank disagreed. When he tried to respond, Haines repeatedly talked over the lawmaker.
"What you have collectively suggested is that we do nothing at all," Frank finally responded.
Then Haines cut him off again. "I've not suggested that," he said.
"Will you please stop interrupting me?" Frank said. "Do you want to lose me?"
But Haines did not yield the microphone, claiming Frank was misrepresenting him. When Frank tried to respond, Haines continued talking until Frank pulled off his lapel microphone and earpiece on camera — but not before giving himself the last word.
"If you want to interrupt because you don't like what I'm saying, then you can find someone else to interview," Frank said.
Back to the House
Vincent Randazzo, the former director of government relations at Wachovia Corp., has joined the staff of Rep. Spencer Bachus, the lead Republican on the House Financial Services Committee.Randazzo is to be deputy staff director of communications and will lead efforts to coordinate with the leadership and member offices.
He has more than 19 years of legislative experience. Before leaving Capitol Hill in 2001, he was chief of staff for the Rules Committee.