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In Letter, Barofsky Explains Concerns

By Ed O'Keefe

By Ed O'Keefe and Amit R. Paley

Neil M. Barofsky, who is overseeing the $700 billion bailout of the financial industry, tells Republican lawmakers in a letter today that a potential Justice Department ruling on his office's relationship with the Treasury Department is unnecessary and could have a serious impact on its independence.

Neil Barofsky
Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program Neil M. Barofsky (Post)

As The Post reported today, Barofsky, the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), said he's been told by the Treasury Department that the agency has legal authority over his office, a claim that could threaten its independence.

In his letter to Sen. Charles E. Grassley and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) Barofsky wrote that his office continues to believe that Treasury's request for a legal opinion from the Office of Legal Counsel "is unnecessary given the very clear intent of Congress regarding our independence: an adverse ruling from OLC could potentially have a serious impact on the independence of our agency and our ability to carry out our mandate; and we believe that Treasury's positions on these issues are entirely unfounded and have little chance of persuading OLC."

OLC has yet to issue an opinion on the matter.

Barofsky also wrote that "To date, Treasury has not withheld any documents from my office on the grounds of privilege, and has made its personnel available to our auditors and investigators as requested."

The dispute first arose as Barofsky's office was auditing the controversial bonus payments to executives at AIG. The company, which is receiving large amounts of assistance from the government, paid bonuses to top executive last year, which prompted a firestorm of criticism from lawmakers and the general public.

Treasury spokesman Andrew Williams said yesterday that the department believes that putting Barofsky's office under the supervision of the secretary will be helpful to the agency and give it privileges the office would not otherwise have.

"The request to clarify the SIGTARP's complex legal status within the executive branch was sent to the Department of Justice only after Department of Treasury consulted with Mr. Barofsky who had no objection," Williams wrote in an e-mail, using the acronym for the watchdog agency's official title, the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Assets Relief Program.

Barofsky's comments come amid questions about the independence of other government inspectors general: President Obama last week dismissed the IG at the Corporation for National and Community Service, an incident that has piqued the interest of lawmakers of both parties. Top officials at the International Trade Commission removed Inspector General Judith Gwynn this week after Grassley inquired about a March incident involving an employee allegedly taking files. The Iowa Republican has also raised questions about the actions of Library of Congress officials, who allegedly interfered with internal investigations.

By Ed O'Keefe  | June 19, 2009; 3:31 PM ET
Categories:  Congress, Oversight  
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Comments

Secretary Geithner was the principal regulator of bank holding companies in the New York Fed district like Citibank. Some failed because he condoned the early hiding of losses at those banks (which then snowballed into the very insufficient equity that caused the crisis). Barofsky is interested in pursuing bank accounting fraud, as he said on the front page of the FT. We can easily see why having him report to Geithner isn't wise.

Posted by: lancecross | June 22, 2009 2:48 AM | Report abuse

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