NBC's Vieira Refuses to Challenge Barney Frank on Wasteful Earmarks

Barney Frank was allowed, by NBC's Meredith Vieira, to go on a tear against AIG for wasting bailout money on corporate bonuses, on Monday's "Today" show, yet Vieira never once interrupted Frank to point out his own wasteful stimulus spending on earmarks going to Frank's home district, including $1 million for scallop research. Vieira also didn't interject when Frank blamed the Bush administration for failed economic oversight, even though it was Frank who blocked reforms of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, something former Vice President Dick Cheney brought up on this Sunday's "State of the Union," on CNN.

Vieira never asked a challenging question throughout the whole interview, instead choosing to let Frank rant: "The time has come for the federal government to put some people in charge...When we were asked by the Bush administration and the Federal Reserve last fall, to do these things, they resisted some of the conditions we wanted to put on."

The following is a complete transcript of the interview with Frank as it was aired on the March 16, "Today" show:

MEREDITH VIEIRA: Congressman Barney Frank, a Democrat from Massachusetts, is the chairman of the House Financial Services committee. Congressman Frank, good morning to you.

REP. BARNEY FRANK: Good morning.

VIEIRA: You heard what, what was just said about Secretary Geithner being outraged by the bonuses. He has worked with Mr. Liddy to try to reduce them. Has he done enough, do you think?

[On screen headline: "Bailout Bonuses, Why Can't Government Stop AIG?"]

FRANK: I'm going to check. I believe, I know he is trying very hard. People should note this one did not come out of the Treasury initially. This is a Federal Reserve decision. This, this decision to give the billions, $80 billion initially to AIG actually came before Congress even passed the rescue plan. There's a statute that we're gonna have to reexamine, I've already said this, that dates from the, 1932, which gives the Federal Reserve the power to lend money to anybody it wants to, if it thinks it's, it's important. And it was under that statute that the AIG thing began.

Clearly not enough was done at the very beginning to put conditions on AIG. And people may have noticed, we've now got complaints from some banks that did get some of the subsequent money we voted, that our conditions were too tough and they're gonna quit the program. My answer is, goodbye please leave quickly and send back the money. So there was an initial mistake. But there are other things we can look at.

VIEIRA: Yeah well-

FRANK: It is true, I'm sorry?

VIEIRA: Congressman, Mr. Liddy said -- no that's okay -- Mr. Liddy wrote that AIG, AIG's hands were essentially tied in all of this. Do you agree?

FRANK: I don't know. And I want to look at it very carefully. But there is one other point here. These people may have a right to their bonuses, they don't have a right to their jobs forever. The federal government now is the 80 percent owner. One of the things we can do to make sure his doesn't happen again, we've got people who are so irresponsible. And by the way, it does appear we're rewarding incompetence. Forget about the legal matter here for a second.

These bonuses are going to people who screwed this thing up enormously, who made terrible decisions. So since the federal government now, thanks to the Federal Reserve's use of the power under that 70-year-old statute, now essentially owns that company, maybe it's time to fire some people. We can't keep them getting the bonuses, but we can keep some of them from continuing in their jobs. And I'm very skeptical that these retention bonuses, these people got retention bonuses. Well if they were in high school, they wouldn't have gotten retention, they would have gotten detention. And the, and the time-

VIEIRA: Detention.

FRANK: -has probably come to now look at it and get rid of some of them.

VIEIRA: You know you had said that executives at AIG, about them, that it's inappropriate for those people to stay in power at that company. What you just reiterated, just now. Does that include Mr. Liddy?

FRANK: Probably. You know, we keep getting bad surprises. Mr. Liddy's been there for a while. I know Mr. Liddy. My first contact with Mr. Liddy, was when he called me last year to see if he could enlist me in renegotiating the terms under which he got money from the Federal Reserve to make it easier. I, I refused to, to get involved in that. And yeah, I think the, the, the time has come for the federal government to put some people in charge. We need to examine whether we can get some of these bonuses back. If we can't, as I said, some of these people, maybe they should choose between keeping their bonus, and keeping their jobs.

You can't fire a man for having his legal right, but I'm ready to look and say, this guy get a bonus? This is a guy who cost us 'x' billion dollars? Let him, let him live off his bonus and no salary for the future. But yeah I, I am at this point, in kind to believe, we're gonna have a hearing, we have a very good former district attorney, Dennis Moore, who is the chairman of our oversight committee. Mr. Kanjorski from Pennsylvania already has a hearing planned on AIG. We're gonna look at this very, very carefully and do the maximum to try and reduce the current outlay. But we can absolutely make sure that something like this never happens again.

And by the way this is the difference. When we were asked by the Bush administration and the Federal Reserve last fall, to do these things, they resisted some of the conditions we wanted to put on. We have since toughened the conditions and we, we are gonna make it very clear to people that there will be no further abuses of this sort because [inaudible] those in place. And now we'll go back and we'll see if we can undo what's already happened.

VIEIRA: Alright Congressman Barney Frank, as always, thank, thank you for your time this morning.

FRANK: You're welcome, [inaudible] to Fall River.

VIEIRA: Thank you very much. Happy St. Paddy's Day to you as well.

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.