Nearly two weeks ago, the fax machine in Neil Barofsky’s office hummed, and the former inspector general in charge of overseeing the controversial Troubled Asset Relief Program picked up a sheet of paper. Someone had faxed him a single page from the forthcoming book by former Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Stress Test.
In the book, Geithner goes after Barofsky, the former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, claiming that he contributed to the negative public image of the administration’s effort to bail out large institutions that got into trouble during the financial crisis. Among other things, he says that Barofsky came to the job “untainted by financial knowledge or experience.”
Geithner also accuses Barofsky’s office of producing incorrect data – a charge Barofsky strenuously contests, claiming that the public record supports him. And the former Treasury Secretary takes shots at the federal agents working for TARP for coming to work armed.
Since then, Geithner has been on the talk show circuit promoting his book and Barofsky has been defending himself on social media.
Barofsky said he had no advance warning that he was going to be a target of Geithner’s book, but it could hardly have been a surprise, as he was critical of the former Treasury Secretary in his own memoir of the crisis, Bailout.
The single faxed page, he said in an interview Monday morning, put him on notice. “It’s disconcerting,” he said. “Nobody wants to be on the receiving end of insults like that from anyone.”
However, he added, considering the source, it didn’t bother him too much.
“It’s Tim Geithner, years after he stepped down,” Barofsky said dismissively. “It’s not like it’s someone I deeply respect and whose insults are going to strike me deeply. It’s the guy who was the architect of a financial crisis in one aspect, from his job at the Fed. He’s the one who botched the bailout in ways that have caused the untold suffering of millions of people. When someone like that comes after you, it’s almost a badge of honor.”
On the one hand, Barofsky said, “I was surprised that it wasn’t more substantive. This has been going on for a number of years where the secretary and I had deep policy disagreements on a number of issues. I assumed that, given that our disagreements were on a higher level, that he would address the policy issues.
“On the other hand, I was disappointed that he couldn’t even make up new mischaracterizations and come up with new insults. He sort of had to retread the same old ones that he trotted out to little effect years earlier.”
The former inspector general went on: “If [former Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. chair] Sheila Bair came after me, if [former Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chair] Brooksley Born came after me — the people who have been proved correct in their assessments of our financial system? If people like that came after me that would really bother me deeply. But Tim Geithner?”
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