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WikiLeaks Worse for SEC Than Bank of America

Stocks in this article: BAC AMZN GS

No, I think that Assange has misidentified the U.S. institution that is going to be "taken down" by whatever he releases. Unless this data dump is going to be a big dud, which is possible but unlikely, I think that we have a major debacle in the making for our debacle-prone, visually impaired, securities watchdogs. It doesn't really matter what the documents involve -- the Merrill Lynch takeover, Bank of America's dealings with other banks, its humungous credit card and consumer banking operations, or the mortgages that it issued during the credit frenzy. Whatever documents are released, the question the public and Congress will raise is "Why hasn't the SEC done something about this?"

It's a no-win situation for the SEC. Either it has the documents in that hard drive already or it doesn't. If it doesn't, it will be taken as proof of the SEC's incompetence (Why didn't the SEC get them?) If it does, it will be taken as proof of the SEC's incompetence (Why hasn't the SEC done anything?) Mary Schapiro, the SEC's chairperson, is hypersensitive to media and congressional pressure, so this is going to be fun to watch. Even when Democrats were controlling the House of Representatives, Schapiro was given the third degree on Capitol Hill when called to discuss the Madoff debacle.

The possible airing of Bank of America's dirty linen couldn't come at a better time.

Just as the WikiLeaks news was breaking, the SEC Office of Inspector General came out with a semi-annual report which showed just how terminally inept, flaccid and generally FUBAR the SEC is when dealing with major banks. The OIG report described how the SEC went out of its way to be lenient to Bank of America when it gave the bank a ridiculous wrist slap for concealing $6 billion in bonuses paid to Merrill execs.

The bank agreed to settle the charges by paying the absurdly small sum of $33 million. It was so penny ante that a federal judge, Jed S. Rakoff, initially refused to sign off on the settlement. The Inspector General found that SEC enforcement staff was pressured to limit the scope of its probe -- limiting it to failure to disclose the bonuses, and not failure to disclose billions in losses -- because of heat from higher-ups to wrap things up quickly.

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