- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - Members of a House subcommittee lined up Tuesday to administer AIG chairman Edward Liddy a public flogging for allowing his executives to accept more in post-bailout bonuses than most Americans earn in a lifetime.

Liddy responded with a warning to cool the rhetoric.

He told the lawmakers he wants the executives to give the money back, an answer that took much of the sting out of lawmakers’ criticism. But then he unloaded the text of ghoulish threats the bonus-taking AIG executives have received.

“I’m just really concerned about the safety of our people,” Liddy said.

Public shaming and Congress’ hyperbolic outrage had failed to inspire all of the bonus-receiving executives to return the money. So House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank demanded their names. And if Liddy doesn’t provide them, Frank said, he’ll subpoena them.

Liddy was ready. He paused in his general assessment of AIG amounting to good capitalism gone bad and pulled several sheets of paper from a stack of notebooks. From them, he read what he said were ghoulish threats made against those executives by members of the public.

Naming the executives wouldn’t just jeopardize their lives, Liddy said, but those of their innocent children. Surely, he said, no one’s in favor of that.

“‘All of the executives and their families should be executed with piano wire around their necks,’” Liddy read into the microphone, apparently from the text of one of the threats his company had received since news of the bonus payments exploded into the headlines over the weekend.

Liddy solemnly read from another:

“‘My greatest hope: If the government can’t do this properly, we, the people, will take it in our own hands and see that justice is done. I’m looking for all the CEOs names, kids, where they live, etc.’”

Frank had a legitimate request, Liddy said. If AIG is required by the force of a subpoena to reveal the names, he added, AIG will do it.

“But I want to protect the well-being of our employees,” he said.

It was a damage-control tour de force, a lesson in how to humanize public pariahs _ in this case, 418 bonus-taking executives of AIG, according to New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

These executives, Liddy was suggesting, are people who had made mistakes, people with families.

Liddy succeeded somewhat in calming the hysteria.

Frank appeared genuinely surprised by the existence and tone of the threats Liddy described. He immediately called them “despicable” and warned his colleagues to be conscious of the effects of their rhetoric.

___

Liddy had other messages for the lawmakers. One was: AIG’s failure may be yours.

“We, at AIG, want to believe that we are all in this together,” he told the panel.

Not if members of Congress, most of whom are up for re-election next year, can help it.

For the fourth straight day, they lobbed ever-more creative statements of outrage at AIG than they uttered statements of their own responsibility for oversight.

But Liddy made the case that saving AIG, whatever its transgressions, is in the lawmakers’ political interest. Not just because Congress knew about the bonus contracts last year. If AIG fails, he argued, the economy won’t soon recover. The implication: and voters won’t soon forgive.

AIG’s “people there today are working as hard as we can to solve this problem for the benefit of America’s taxpayer,” Liddy said. “And, quite frankly, we need your help.”

___

Room 2128 of the Rayburn House Office Building seemed like an angry place _ and some of that anger was even genuine.

Liddy, sauntered into the hearing room looking a lot like somebody’s grandfather. As he approached the witness table, a gaggle of sign-weilding protesters, rose. One extended her hand.

Liddy smiled. The protester then unloaded complaints on him about the bonuses.

Liddy suggested waiting for the hearing to find out the facts. One protester asked: Did he really know the facts of how the economy affects American lives.

“Believe me, I have a very good sense of what some of those facts are,” Liddy said.

Later, tired of the protesters signs appearing behind Liddy on television, Chairman Paul Kanjorski rose, eyebrows knitted and gavel in hand.

“Signs down!” he bellowed at the protesters.

“Officers, take the signs. Now, if I see any more signs on camera, you’re going to be physically removed from this room.”

The protesters handed them over, muttering about being stripped of their rights.

___

Zippy Duvall has been interviewed and all is well with him, The Associated Press can report.

The crowd of reporters awaiting Liddy’s arrival around lunch time descended mistakenly on Duvall, the balding president of the Georgia Farm Bureau who was in town doing bureau business and was unaware of what he had stumbled into.

As it happens, Duvall looks nothing like the white-maned chairman of the AIG, who was rumored to have arrived somewhere in the building.

But that didn’t stop someone from falsely identifying him as Congress’ whipping boy of the moment, nor the mass of journalists from lobbing every urgent question at him - except his name.

There apparently wasn’t time for that.

Was he prepared for the hearing? Did he think that “they” would be fair? Someone else asked something about bonuses and bailouts.

Duvall gazed around at the media with sound booms hovering and camera lights glaring. He issued a helpless grin at others in his entourage.

Georgia Water Planning and Policy Center Director Doug Wilson whispered to a reporter: “Who do they think he is?”

“Edward Liddy,” he was told.

“Who?” Wilson asked. AIG, the story about corporate bonuses and all that, someone explained.

“Zippy!” one of his colleagues called to the accidental media star. They think you’re the guy from AIG, he was told.

“I’m not,” Duvall apologized.

Mr. Duvall was then permitted to go about his business.

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