The New Sheriff of Wall Street

President Obama has made an excellent choice to head the SEC — Mary Jo White.

She is a former federal prosecutor who was the first woman to head the U. S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, a really coveted and prestigious job.  Outside of government, she has been a defense lawyer for white-collar criminals, so she knows how their schemes are structured and disguised.

Very smart, very tough, very dedicated.

The buzz is that Obama chose a woman, given that he’s been getting heat for so many male appointments, but to me the important thing is that he picked someone who is really sharp and capable.  My first thought on seeing the news wasn’t “Oh, great, he picked a woman,” but “Oh, great, she’s going to kick some Wall Street ass.”

Was Mitt Set Up on Bain?

I’m wondering if Mitt has been set up over Bain to make the story not about jobs, but about honesty.

Mitt ran twice in Massachusetts, with the story of how he’d caused workers to lose their jobs and benefits used against him both times.  Ted Kennedy used it effectively to defeat Mitt and keep his Senate seat.  But it didn’t work as well for Shannon O’Brien, who lost to Mitt for governor.

So the sad stories about the folks whom Mitt callously fired weren’t a sure thing for the presidential race.  Might work, might not.  Voters understand about the “creative destruction” part of capitalism, that jobs and industries come and go.  Mitt might have been especially ruthless about not giving folks notice and severance pay, but Americans realize that very few of us work at the buggy whip factory anymore.

But the Massachusetts history also offered another way to attack Mitt on Bain — Mitt’s insistence that he had left the company in February 1999 to run the Olympics and wasn’t involved in or responsible for anything that occurred after that date.  At the time it was called a part-time leave of absence, consistent with two prior leaves he’d taken — one to fix Bain Capital’s parent company when it was near bankruptcy and another to run for Senate.  It was assumed he’d return, as he had both other times.  Would he really cut off any involvement with this company he owned and was still head of and let it possibly be run into the ground?

So going into the 2012 race, Mitt was stuck with his unequivocal claims about when he’d left Bain, dating back both to his Massachusetts run for governor and his 2008 run for president.  But those claims are inconsistent with all kinds of documentary evidence, from SEC filings to candidate disclosures to contemporaneous newspaper articles.

I’m wondering if someone saw that the real way to catch Mitt was not to focus on his trail of lost jobs, but rather on his trail of lies.  I’m wondering which political party that someone belongs to.

Is Mitt Lying to Us or to the SEC?

Mitt keeps saying that he retired from Bain Capital in February 1999.  He’s been saying this since his run for Massachusetts governor in 2002 to avoid responsibility for bankruptcies and layoffs in companies Bain owned.  It’s been his claim in both his presidential runs.

But nine SEC filings between 1999 and 2002 name Mitt as Bain’s chief executive and chairman, including five new partnerships.  If people invested in Bain believing that he was running it, and he wasn’t, that’s one hell of a misrepresentation.

Moreover, Mitt filed a financial disclosure in Massachusetts in 2003 declaring that he owned all of Bain Capital in 2002.  And Mitt’s severance agreement with Bain was reached in 2002.

Either Mitt is lying to the American people now or lied to the SEC then.  If it’s the former, he shouldn’t be president.  If it’s the latter, he should be prosecuted.

My guess is that since the SEC filings didn’t become an issue in his Massachusetts run, he figured he could get away with his claims about leaving Bain in early 1999 at the presidential level.  Politicians believe this at their peril.  National politics is a whole other level of scrutiny.  Sleeping dogs wake up, and sometimes they bark very loudly demanding attention.