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As Obama Jokes of Goldman Sachs at WHCD, Fed Took Its Sunday Calls, ICP FOIAs

By Matthew R. Lee

NEW YORK, May 1 -- The lack of seriousness in US bank regulation grows from the largest banks like Goldman Sachs - which gets weekend service from the Federal Reserve's top lawyer - down to Huntington, trying to close 106 branches.

 On April 30, Barack Obama in his last White House Correspondents Dinner said, "If this material works well, I'm going to use it at Goldman Sachs next year."

 Very funny, like mocking campaigns to break up the largest banks. Or like Larry Wilmore linking the Warriors' Steph Curry with long range bombing as in Yemen. Or like Reuters, here and Vine here, taking over the WHCA.

 Goldman Sachs on January 14, 2016 withheld basic information from the response it was required to send to Inner City Press, see below.

But on March 21, after the Fed was notified of extensive irregularities in its processing of the Goldman Sachs - GE application, the Board hauled off and approved it, saying, in footnote 49, that

"Two commenters express concerns about GS Bank’s use of the Board’s prefiling process, suggesting that commenters could not participate in the resolution of substantive issues raised by the proposal because these issues were resolved before the filing of this application. One of these commenters withdrew its comments in full following its discussions with GS Bank.

 The Federal Reserve has established a prefiling process to provide potential applicants with information about the procedural requirements, such as timing and the applicable forms, associated with a proposal. See SR Letter 12-12. This process also helps to identify information that may be needed in connection with issues that the Board typically considers in connection with a particular type of application or notice, such as
competition or financial stability. The prefiling process is not used, and was not used in this case, to resolve or predetermine the outcome of any substantive issues. As in every case, the substantive issues involved in this case were considered and resolved as part ofthe processing of GS Bank’s formal application. In doing so, the Board considered all public comments on the proposal.

Voting for this action: Chair Yellen, Vice Chairman Fischer, and Governors Tarullo, Powell, and Brainard."

 Absurdly, when on January 22 Goldman Sachs sent Inner City Press a copy of its January 18 answer to the Fed, it withheld whole pages and exhibits. Inner City Press has already FOIA-ed:

"the entirety of the January 18, 2016 submission in connection with the Application by Goldman Sachs with regard to GE Capital Bank  of which a heavily redacted copy was sent to Inner City Press on January 22, as a timely commenter, by Goldman Sachs.

  "Goldman Sachs' submission is largely blacked-out, with many exhibits withheld -- all of which we are hereby requesting under FOIA. Simply as examples:  Page 1 has some redactions, which we challenge, but page 2 is almost entirely redacted.  On Page 3, only twelve words are NOT redacted -- and three of those are 'Confidential Exhibit 2,' which ICP is requesting, along with all else.

  "Nearly all of “Notices and Disclosures” is redacted --- some disclosure -- as is “Policies” and “Procedures” -- Inner City Press is challenging these redactions and requesting the entire submission under FOIA."

  That has been submitted, and receipt confirmed.

 On November 19, Goldman Sachs submitted a purported reply to the Federal Reserve, stating among other things that "Certain Comment Letters express concern with the contact between GS Bank and Board staff prior to GS Bank submitting the Application. GS Bank respectfully submits that the contact was both appropriate and ordinary in the context of the Board’s own guidance on pre-filing communications.11 Additionally, the allegations of contact are not germane to the scope of the statutory factors set forth for Board consideration under the Bank Merger Act."

  The 2012 Fed letter Goldman Sachs cites was meant to benefit smaller banks - and did not envision Additional Information letters before the public was even notified of the proposal. The misuse of small bank "regulatory relief" by the likes of Goldman Sachs casts new light of legislative riders being considered for the US spending bill due December 11.

 Going forward, KeyCorp is trying to buy First Niagara, and NY Community Bank wants to buy Astoria; there is opposition.

  As to Goldman Sachs, Inner City Press / Fair Finance Watch filed a supplement comment on October 30 including Goldman's new and troubling settlement with the NYS Department of Financial Services regarding a former Federal Reserve employee impermissibly using Fed information for them. Public hearings and an extension of the comment period are needed.

 As detailed below, the Federal Reserve's General Counsel Scott Alvarez solicitiously agreed to weekend phone calls with Goldman's outside council Rodgin "Rodge" Cohen at Sullivan & Cromwell, and the Fed submitted its "Additional Information" request to Goldman in July, a full month before any application was submitted or the deal publicly announced.

  Thus there was no way for the public to be involved in the Fed's review, which is required by the Bank Merger Act (and the Administrative Procedures Act). The Fed began trying to essentially pre-approve some applications with a 2012 letter to banks, here - but it said no major issues could be addressed this way, and the interchanged would be subject to FOIA.

  In this case, though, where Inner City Press submitted its FOIA request as soon as it became aware of Goldman's GE proposal and application, none of the information would have been available until after the comment period was set to close on September. It has been extended to October 30, due to requests from ICP and other NCRC members, but the Fed is still withholding portions of its communication with Goldman in the face of the FOIA Appeal Inner City Press immediately filed. (ICP has also submitted a timely additional comment on these issues.)

  Inner City Press has previously litigated FOIA requests with the Fed and won, at least in part, for example in obtaining subprime lending information the Fed wanted to withhold, here.  But this should not be necessary in order for the public to have this basic information, during the comment period. Will members of Congress and other chime in? Watch this site.

  This process began by overbroad withholding of basic parts of Goldman's application, click here to view, which Goldman in an October 14 submission to the Fed, here, says has been cured (it has not been).

  Now the Federal Reserve has belatedly responded to Inner City Press / Fair Finance Watch's September 2 FOIA request, with some of its internal documents, many heavily redacted. FOIA letter here; FOIA documents released to ICP here, and embedded below.

 While Inner City Press is appealing, even as released the documents show that Goldman Sachs through its law firm Sullivan & Cromwell reached out to Fed General Counsel Scott Alvarez in May 2015 about the transaction, and was largely able to vet it with the Fed's staff by July, even receiving an "additional information" request before any application was filed.

  Since the public cannot comment or ask questions before a transaction is announced, this "pre-review" by the Fed in essence cuts public review and transparency out of the process. The Fed's rules against ex-parte communications can't be triggered before there is an application. But should Fed review be held, and apparently completed, before there is any public notice?

  The documents Inner City Press has obtained under FOIA show that on May 14 and May 18, Goldman Sachs and its outside counsel Rodgin "Rodge" Cohen of Sullivan & Cromwell told the Fed and its General Counsel Scott Alvarez of their plans for GE Capital Bank.

 On May 28, the Fed met with Goldman which presented a "deck" of information about "Project Apple," much of it still redacted as provided to Inner City Press (which is appealing under FOIA).

  As precedents, Goldman Sachs cited Capital One - ING and RBC - City National (see below).

 This was followed by a May 29, 2015 letter from "Rodge" to the Fed's Scott Alvarez, asking for confidential treatment of everything including the letter, and including from any Governmental inquiry. (Page 28 of FOIA response to ICP.) A similar letter was submitted by Cohen on June 16, attaching a letter the Fed has redacted in full from Goldman Sachs' Esta E. Stecher.

  Scott Alvarez took the conversation onto the telephone, not subject to FOIA, on June 16. His accompanying e-mails, as redacted, only say "Thanks! Scott."

 On June 26, the Fed' Alison Thro wrote that "Rodgin Cohen was in today briefly to discuss, among other things, GS’s plans to acquire the deposits of GE’s ILC. He asked what the next steps might be." What were those "other things"?

 On July 13, the Fed sent Cohen a "request for additional information concerning the proposal by GS Bank to purchase certain assets and assume the deposit liabilities of GE Capital Bank."

  A request for additional information is usually what the Fed sends a bank or bank holding company after it has submitted an application; a commenter would get a copy. Here, the Fed was pre-reviewing Goldman Sachs' proposal, entirely outside of any public scrutiny. (The later public questions are as if by rote: the fix was already in.)

  On Friday, July 17 the Fed's Thomas Baxter wrote to Scott Alvarez that the transaction would be public announced the next Monday -- AFTER the Fed's "additional information request" -- based on a long voicemail from Harvey Schwartz of Goldman Sachs. (Page 59 of FOIA response to ICP). Alvarez was on the phone with "Esta of GA and Rodge Cohen."

  Alvarez said he was willing to talk with Goldman Sachs on Sunday, July 19. Cohen had written to Alvarez:

"In view of the various communications on Friday and the intended announcement of the deposit assumption transaction on Monday, GS believes that it must decide over this weekend whether it can proceed as scheduled and, as a matter of fairness and transparency, what it can tell GE. As we have discussed, this transaction appears to be a centerpiece of the GE restructuring. We would therefore most appreciate the opportunity to have a conference call as soon as possible over the weekend to obtain as much clarity as possible as to timing and other relevant matters.
We apologize for intruding into your weekend and thank you your consideration of this request." (Page 65 of FOIA response.)

   The reference to "fairness and transparency" was apparently without irony. But Goldman stood the Fed up.

  But this announcement was postponed. Alvarez wrote on July 20 that "Rodge just sent a note that GS wants to postpone signing the deal with GE and the announcement for 2 to 3 weeks." More review continued, outside of public scrutiny. Alvarez made himself available on Sunday, July 26. But to no avail.

 The deal was publicly announced on August 13 and Goldman Sachs on August 18 submitted the apparently pre-approved application. Inner City Press / Fair Finance Watch submitted a comment and FOIA request (delayed until now); the end of the FOIA response has a redacted reaction to the "public comment." Now others have commented and a campaign has begun. But has the Fed already made up its mind?

On Goldman Sachs, Federal Reserve's Initial FOIA Response to Inner City Press on GE Capital Bank by Matthew Russell Lee

 But even by October 16, no response from the Fed. Only this from Goldman Sachs, only snail-mailed by its counsel:

Goldman Sachs' 2d Reply to Inner City Press, As Fed Withholds FOIA Documents by Matthew Russell Lee

 On October 13 Inner City Press published the Federal Reserve's communications with the CIT Group's outside counsel, which shows how the release of public documents is allowed by the Fed to be delayed. CIT made disingenuous requests for confidential treatment of information that could not be withheld, without any repercussion. They were rewarded with FOIA appeal denials by Fed Governor Jay Powell; now Goldman is trying to withhold information that should be public. Will there be any repercussion or accountability? Watch this site.

Revealed: Federal Reserve Asking CIT Group About Inner City Press FOIA Request: Now Goldman Sachs? by Matthew Russell Lee


Goldman Sachs' Response to Inner City Press / Fair Finance Watch Comments on GE Capital Application, Sept 1... by Matthew Russell Lee

 As Inner City Press exposed last month, Royal Bank of Canada jumped the gun and began doing business with City National Bank without any Federal Reserve approval (see Los Angeles Times, here.)

 Now, even as New York regulators says their comment period on Goldman Sachs' GE Capital proposal extends at least through September 28, Goldman has published fine print notices in the New York Post and a newspaper in Utah saying the Federal Reserve will stop listening on September 19.

  Really? After the Fed made Goldman Sachs a bank holding company with no public comment period at all, so Goldman could get a bail-out? After the Fed's coziness with Goldman Sachs was again demonstrated, by the audio taped by then-Fed examiner Carmen Segarra?

  Inner City Press immediately submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for all of Goldman Sachs' GE Capital application and related records. The Federal Reserve has provided a heavily redacted copy, on which Inner City Press / Fair Finance Watch has commented to the FRB in Washington:

"Among many other things, Goldman Sachs believes it can withhold the volume of deposits it seeks to acquire from GE Capital Bank, WHAT is seeks to acquire (and what not to acquire) from GE Capital Bank, its number of employees in Utah, the contact people on its application, the number of non profit organizations it tells the FRB it serves on the board of -- presumptively public -- and even the NAMES of the exhibits it seeks to withhold entirely. This is abusive and unprecedented and the FRB must, in response, have the comment period begin again. Otherwise, applicants only benefit by making absurd and abusive requests for confidential treatment. There is much more to be said, including at the public hearings ICP is requesting, but it is imperative that the Board act on this as quickly as possible."

Goldman Sachs' Heavily Redacted "Confidential" Application to the FRB to Acquire GE Capital Bank Deposits by Matthew Russell Lee

  When Goldman Sachs became a bank holding company literally overnight in 2008, Inner City Press / Fair Finance Watch and others including NCRC asked the Fed how this was done with no public comment period at all.

  The answer, it seems, is to be found in the audio leaked by Carmen Segarra of the Federal Reserve, showing further Fed favors for Goldman Sachs.

 With this history, and Goldman's history in predatory lending with Litton Servicing and as an underwriter, see Occupy Wall Street video here, and UN / migration connection here, it seems clear that the Fed must hold public hearings on Goldman Sachs' GE Capital application, when it is filed.

  But with the Federal Reserve, you can never be too sure, or too careful.

  When Community Bank System of upstate New York filed with the Fed nine answers to questions asked after Inner City Press' challenge, it tried to withhold fully eight of the nine responses. More here.

  Inner City Press immediately filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the whole submission - and even the Federal Reserve saw through Community Bank System's absurdly -- and tellingly -- overbroad withholding, releasing all but one part of one of the eight withheld responses. But since then, all the Fed has done is seek a mere antitrust control commitment.

  Here's is the Federal Reserve's letter to Inner City Press granting most of its FOIA request:

Freedom of Information Act Ruling Rejecting Community Bank System Withholding 8 of 9 Responses on Oneida Ap... by Matthew Russell Lee

here is the now unredacted version of Community Bank System's submission.

Unredacted Version of Community Bank System's Responses on Oneida, After ICP's FOIA Request by Matthew Russell Lee

We'll have more on this.


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