Sheila Bair Wants You to Know That Sheila Bair Is Innocent: Street Whispers

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Sheila Bair's new tell-all book on the 2008 bank bailout has given fresh fodder to Wall Street critics while defending her role in trying to prevent the financial crisis.

Excerpts quoted in the media from her book Bull by the Horns: Fighting to Save Main Street from Wall Street and Wall Street From Itself reveal a clash of personalities and philosophies between the former chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

"Tim Geithner had been the bailouter in chief during the 2008 crisis," Bair wrote scathingly in her book, according to American Banker . "If it hadn't been for my resistance and the grown-up supervision of Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke, we would have spent even more money bailing out the financial bigwigs and guaranteeing all their debt. As president of the NY Fed, Tim had been responsible for regulating many of the very institutions whose activities had gotten us all into trouble."

Bair said the President's choice of Geithner as Treasury Secretary was a "punch in the gut".

"I did not understand how someone who had campaigned on a 'change' agenda could appoint someone who had been so involved in contributing to the financial mess that had gotten Obama elected," she wrote. Her own choice would have been former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, she wrote.

Geithner, meanwhile, confirmed at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York Tuesday that he will not stay on in his job if President Obama gets re-elected.

"I've had a lot of excitement in my job, more than my share," he told interviewer Charlie Rose, according to Bloomberg."But I think the president ... should have a chance, and will have a chance, to have somebody excellent and capable come in and help him with those challenges."

He also said he will not be writing his memoirs, so we may never hear his side of the story.

Bair also has harsh words for Citigroup Chairman Vikram Pandit." I thought Pandit had been a poor choice. He was a hedge fund manager by occupation and one with a mixed record at that. He had no experience as a commercial banker, yet now he was heading one of the biggest banks in the country," she wrote, according to an excerpt published in Forbes.

"Since Vikram Pandit became CEO during the financial crisis, Citi has executed a strategy based on returning to the basics of banking and building a culture of responsible finance.," the bank said in a statement in response to Bair's comments. "Citi has built industry-leading financial strength, reduced its non-core businesses and assets by over $600 billion, and returned to profitability. It is a simpler, smaller, safer and stronger institution than it was 5 years ago and this record speaks for itself."

Bair also talks about her frustration with the government's efforts to help homeowners. Geithner failed to adopt her recommendations for the Home Affordable Modifications Program (HAMP), which she said was too narrow and would help too few people.

"HAMP was a program designed to look good in a press release, not to fix the housing market," Bair writes. "Larry Summers and Tim Geithner didn't seem to care about the political beating the president took on the hundreds of billions of dollars thrown at the big-bank bailouts and AIG bonuses, but when it came to homeowners it was a very different story. I don't think helping homeowners was ever a priority for them."

With juicy quotes like that, the book promises to be an entertaining read, at least for those who want to relive the reality horror show.

But more depressing is her view that TARP might have been unnecessary.

"In retrospect, the mammoth assistance to those big institutions seemed like overkill. I never saw a good analysis to back it up. But that was a big part of the problem: lack of information. When you are in a crisis, you err on the side of doing more, because if you come up short, the consequences can be disastrous," she writes.

Her disappointment and regret about the bailout is evident in her interview with CNBC. "..We didn't help homeowners, we didn't tackle mortgages the way we should have, we never cleaned up bank balance sheets which continue to be a drag on the economy, and the horrible public cynicism toward Washington and large financial institutions and this perception that the game is rigged was created by the bailouts."

The initial reaction from the media and the general public seems to be overwhelmingly in favor of Bair's account of the crisis.

Clearly, Wall Street has a long way to go in repairing its reputational damage.

But as Oppenheimer analyst Chris Kotowski pointed out in a report Tuesday, that's no reason not to invest in bank stocks.

According to the analyst, banks are suffering from a problem of perception, with the reality being that fundamentals are actually improving. "...To us, that bespeaks opportunity because the essence of investing is to find a gap between perception and reality," Kotowski wrote. " In our view, the industry's reality is that it is steadily recovering from a cyclical trough while the perception, propagated by politicians and reporters everywhere, is that because they "caused" the financial crisis, bank stocks are somehow too icky to touch and therefore "uninvestible"regardless of the fundamentals or valuation."

"While "Wall Street" will probably always be a convenient object of scorn on which politicians, reporters and the public at large can blame all of "Main Street's" woes, the reality is that the economy needs a financial system with financial institutions to intermediate financial risks," he added.

-- Written by Shanthi Bharatwaj in New York.
Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors and reporters from holding positions in any individual stocks.

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