NEW YORK (
) -- After 10 hours of congressional scolding, has our nation finally had its fill of
and Wall Street bashing? It seems likely the answer is no.
The back and forth between Lloyd Blankfein and six current and former Goldman Sachs executives was largely unsatisfying, as supporters and haters of Goldman each found plenty to support the views they already held going into Tuesday's hearing.
Senator Carl Levin (D., Mich.), who chaired the hearing, seemed senile and clueless at times, until he would suddenly seize on the right line of questioning and transform himself into a deeply powerful moral figure and the hearing into a meaningful event. Similarly, the Goldman executives he faced off against appeared smug and unrepentant on some occasions, and unfairly persecuted at other times.
Goldman Chief Financial Officer David Viniar appeared almost desperate at times to do anything in his power to satisfy the senators and the public. Viniar may have come the closest to doing so when he first called it unfortunate that a Goldman executive had referred to a deal the bank was marketing as "shitty" in an email, before Levin made him realize that the mistake was selling the product in the first place.''
The hearing went on so long, and the senators appeared so out of their league at times with regard to financial markets-related questions, that there were plenty of moments that made little sense at all.
One senator asked Viniar what he thought should be done about
, a question so perplexing that regulators and politicians have essentially ignored it for nearly two years. Viniar said he had no opinion. No opinion, the senator cried. This is a $2 trillion dollar question and you're in the middle of the financial markets. We need your help to figure out what to do! Ah.
An exchange between
was typical of many in the hearing in which senators tried to squeeze some admission of guilt out of the bankers, but were stymied as the bankers retreated into a lecture about the role of the "market maker" -- a subject of interest to few people who do not work on Wall Street.
Even "Fabulous" Fabrice Tourre turned out to be a disappointment. One senator asked him how he felt about having Goldman release all his personal emails translated by Goldman and released to the public, and all he said was that he regretted the emails.
The senator then asked him if Goldman attorneys were defending him in his case against the
Securities and Exchange Commission
, and he said they were, which was about as close to satisfying as Tourre's testimony ever got.
There were many moments when the hearing seemed not to be about Goldman or any particular deal the firm put together, but about the entire crisis. It is rare to see successful mid-level bankers forced to defend their actions before Congress. We are more used to the bosses, but they give us an incomplete picture. Seeing the managing directors or, in Tourre's case, vice presidents, try to answer for their actions seemed at times like it might provide some insight. But more often than not, the questioners, despite all their preparation, were in over their heads, and the bankers found it too easy to slip away.
Despite the lack of a dramatic conclusion to the Goldman saga, many investors seemed to be betting the worst was over for the firm's share price. The stock closed higher on the day and was up in after-hours trading as the hearing wore on for several more hours.
But I'd expect Goldman shares to continue to face big selling pressure as the SEC case wears on, and, more importantly, as financial reform legislation continues to take shape in Congress.
--Written by Dan Freed in New York