- The Washington Times - Monday, April 20, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and other top regulators met six times in the days before the administration announced its revised bank-rescue strategy.

The Fed chief consulted frequently with Geithner as well as Sheila Bair, head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., and John Dugan, U.S. Comptroller of the Currency between the end of January and early February. Those were days leading up to Geithner’s Feb. 10 announcement revamping a $700 billion financial bailout program.

The plan included a sketched-out effort to take dodgy assets off banks’ books to put them in a better position to boost lending. But the lack of details spooked Wall Street and stocks nosedived.

The information on the meetings was contained in documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Ken Thomas, a lecturer in finance at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. Thomas provided the documents to The Associated Press on Monday.

The documents simply list Bernanke’s contacts through the day. They do not provide information about the content of meetings or telephone calls. But they do offer a rare glimpse into one of Washington’s most mysterious institutions.

Before being sworn in as Treasury secretary on Jan. 26, Geithner headed the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. While there, he worked closely with Bernanke and was on the front lines of government efforts to stabilize the shaky financial system and get credit flowing more freely to people and companies, a necessary ingredient for an economic rebound.

Bernanke also met with former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker as well as Lawrence Summers, Treasury secretary under President Clinton. Both Volcker and Summers are now economic advisers to President Barack Obama.

He also met with BlackRock Inc. Chief Executive Laurence Fink on Jan. 29. That same day, Bernanke spoke by telephone to Ford Motor Co.’s CEO Alan Mulally.

Bernanke met on Feb. 4 with Bangladeshi banker and economist Muhammad Yunis, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. A day later he met with Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and with the chief economist at Fidelity Investments.

The Fed chief also stays in touch with key lawmakers on Capitol Hill. He met with Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman of the House Financial Services Committee on Feb. 2, and Chris Dodd, D-Conn., chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, on Feb. 12 _ two days after Geithner’s bank-rescue announcement.

To battle the worst housing, credit and financial crisis since the 1930s, the Fed has slashed a key bank lending rate to a record low near zero and has rolled out a number of bold programs to spur lending.

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