In August, the US Treasury Department responded to a 2013 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records of former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s communications during the 2008 bailout of American International Group (AIG) by claiming that the agency could not find any records.
The FOIA request was filed in May of 2013 and the agency notified the requester about the completion of the records search in August of 2015. The FOIA request sought records related to the 2008 AIG bailout, specifically, records of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s communications about AIG from June 1, 2008 to January 20, 2009.
The Treasury Department claimed in response to the FOIA request that they could not find any records, writing “A comprehensive search of Treasury’s official correspondence tracking system failed to locate or identify any responsive records.”
If the Treasury Department’s claim is not a brazen lie, then it reveals an astounding lack of official record keeping at the agency during former Treasury Secretary Paulson’s tenure given that there is overwhelming evidence that he was communicating with numerous people regarding AIG — in his official capacity — during the period of time specified in the FOIA request.
Mr. Paulson has repeatedly described participating in discussions related to the AIG bailout, perhaps most prominently in “Too Big To Fail,” the book written by New York Times journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin which was the basis for an HBO film of the same name. The film and book both detail Paulson and his advisors discussing AIG and the AIG bailout during the June 2008-January 2009 time period.
In his own book on the subject, “On The Brink,” former Secretary Paulson describes his involvement in dealing with the 2008 financial crisis including the AIG bailout. While it is his version of the events, it discloses activities that could have fallen under the FOIA request.
In Chapter 10, Mr. Paulson provides readers details of his of life on September 15th, 2008 – a time period covered by the FOIA request – which includes specific references to communications he had as treasury secretary regarding AIG:
I called [SEC Chairman] Chris Cox at 8:15 a.m. to urge him to get prepared to take action on the short sellers. Before I left for the airport, I caught up with [New York Federal Reserve Chairman] Tim [Geithner]. His news wasn’t encouraging — AIG was already looking worse than last night. We agreed that I would get back to Washington as soon as possible and organize my team to deal with Congress and the broader crisis.
Mr. Paulson also wrote in his book about talking to private individuals about AIG including Bill Osborn of Northern Trust, AIG’s former CEO Robert Willumstad, and Goldman Sachs banker Ken Wilson during the time covered by the FOIA request
After two years the Treasury Department really can not find one record of this? Or was everything off the record?
Knowing Secretary Paulson’s conduct during the AIG bailout is of a compelling public interest given the conflicts in his role as both a sitting treasury secretary and a former CEO of Goldman Sachs. Goldman Sachs was a major counterparty of AIG and, controversially, received a 100 cents on the dollar bailout from the federal government thanks, in part, to Paulson.
Shadowproof will be appealing this FOIA response under the right to appeal “adverse actions,” which includes a response of no records. Any help would be greatly appreciated.