WikiLeaks Bombshell: Emails Show Citigroup Had Major Role in Shaping and Staffing Obama’s First Term

By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: October 11, 2016

President Obama Walking in Cross Hall at the White House. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.)

President Obama Walking in Cross Hall at the White House. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.)

The Presidential election of 2008 was held on November 4, with Barack Obama winning on a promise of delivering “hope” and “change” to a nation in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. At that time, Citigroup was a financial basket-case. It had already received $25 billion from the government’s bailout program known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) in October; it was secretly receiving hundreds of billions of dollars more each month in below-market rate, revolving loans from the Federal Reserve — information which the Fed refused to make public despite multiple Freedom of Information Act requests from the media; and Citigroup was just 19 days from more hemorrhaging, requiring an additional government infusion of $20 billion and asset guarantees of more than $300 billion. Citigroup’s stock was at $13.99, a decline of 63 percent in just 12 months and it was on its way to eventually trade as a penny stock, at 99 cents.

Citigroup had been serially charged by its regulators for abusing its customers and targeting the poor and financially uneducated. But key executives at the bank had played major roles in raising funds for the Barack Obama campaign so it was richly rewarded for that.

According to emails released by WikiLeaks yesterday, which came from a hack of the email account of John Podesta, a co-chair of Obama’s 2008 Transition Team,  we learn that despite the obvious fact that Citigroup was both corrupt and derelict in handling its own financial affairs, Barack Obama gave executives of that bank an outsized role in shaping and staffing his first term.

In an email dated Saturday, October 18, 2008, Michael Froman, using his official Citigroup email address of fromanm@citi.com, sent the following email to Obama’s advisors:

“Review Teams

“Attached is the latest version of the Agency Review teams. It is a closely held document, so please treat it with the same sensitivity as ours. If you all could take a quick look at the lists for the agencies in your area, that would be helpful. I think the hope is that, while there are no guarantees, some of the people on these lists might make their way into the agencies ultimately. Our role, therefore, is to check whether there is much overlap between the names here and the names were seeing/generating for sub-cabinet positions in each agency. There doesn’t need to be total overlap, but if there is a total disconnect, it would probably be better to rectify that now vs. later.

“I hate to ask, since I just send you another long spreadsheet to check, but if you could do this tomorrow and get back to Lisa (copied here) and myself, that would be great. Thanks.”

Froman had served in the Clinton administration and moved to Citigroup along with Clinton’s Treasury Secretary, Robert Rubin. (Rubin would collect compensation of $126 million during his decade at the bank after helping to deliver the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, legislation that had previously prevented Citigroup from owning an insured bank along with high-risk brokerage and investment banking.) According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Froman was a Managing Director of Citigroup Management Corp. from 1999 to 2009.

Obama appointed Froman to the position of U.S. Trade Representative in 2013. This is how Politico sums up how trade deals are being deliberated under his command:

“If you want to hear the details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal the Obama administration is hoping to pass, you’ve got to be a member of Congress, and you’ve got to go to classified briefings and leave your staff and cellphone at the door.

“If you’re a member who wants to read the text, you’ve got to go to a room in the basement of the Capitol Visitor Center and be handed it one section at a time, watched over as you read, and forced to hand over any notes you make before leaving.”

According to the WikiLeaks emails released yesterday, Froman began plotting who would serve in the Obama administration long before the election results came in.

In an email to John Podesta dated September 18, 2008, Froman wrote:

“Mark Gittenstein called to say he was in the process of inserting people into all of the work streams and indicated that Ron Klain would be their representative on the Personnel Working Group. I know and like Ron and am happy to work with him. Do let me know how you’d like to handle information flow, role in decisionmaking, etc. Thanks.”

In another email dated October 15, 2008, Froman further shows he is playing a pivotal role in personnel issues. He writes to Podesta and Obama advisor Pete Rouse:

“Please see attached. Pete, need to chat with you today about a time-sensitive Treasury issue. Please call at your convenience. 917-499-3433. John, got some feedback that Blair could well be interested in DNI. Also, spent some more time with Oszag last night and think he could be enticed to the NEC. Also, spent 2 hours (!) with Gene yesterday.”

Another email suggests that Podesta allowed Froman to screen  potential new hires. Podesta wrote to Froman on October 13, 2008 to inquire:

“Subject: Gerald Corrigan

“Rahm raised as possible Treasury Deputy. Said he didn’t know him, but his name had been raised by others. You probably do. Worth considering?”

Froman responded: “Yes, though quite a bit out of date.”

Froman was not the only Citigroup executive to be tapped to shape Obama’s first term. In an email dated just five days after Obama won the 2008 election, Daniel Tarullo, an Obama advisor who now sits as a member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors and functions in the quasi-role as supervisor of the too-big-to-fail bank holding companies like Citigroup, emailed Jack Lew at Citigroup. Lew was Chief Operating Officer of the very division that toppled the bank. Tarullo tells Lew the following:

“Jack – Here’s what I wanted to speak with you about: (1) possibility of meeting in Chicago to brief BO/JRB on budget/stimulus. People have been talking about Wed, Thur, or Fri, but nothing yet firmly set to my knowledge. Assuming it goes forward, how should we present (in 90 minutes for both!) the key issues? (2) your willingness to do some oversight on what Jason is doing on budget preparation, at least until such time as we have an OMB Director designate. Dan”

Robert Rubin was also contacted on November 1, 2008 at his official Citigroup email address by Tarullo. The same email was copied to another Clinton Treasury Secretary, Larry Summers, who was then at a hedge fund, DE Shaw. The email indicates that Tarullo was seeking the opinion of Rubin, Summers and others in Obama’s closely knit circle as to whether Obama should attend a G20 Summit as President Elect. (Clip on the top tab “attachments” to read the full memo.)

Let that sink in for a moment. The Obama team was asking Robert Rubin, who had played a major role in pushing for the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which had in turn allowed Citigroup to become an unraveling banking behemoth that was at that very moment playing an outsized role in cratering the U.S. financial system, to give it advice on how Obama should conduct himself on financial and economic matters.

In her book, Bull by the Horns, Sheila Bair, head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation during the financial crisis, wrote the following:

“By November [2008], the supposedly solvent Citi was back on the ropes, in need of another government handout.  The market didn’t buy the OCC’s and NY Fed’s strategy of making it look as though Citi was as healthy as the other commercial banks.  Citi had not had a profitable quarter since the second quarter of 2007.  Its losses were not attributable to uncontrollable ‘market conditions’; they were attributable to weak management, high levels of leverage, and excessive risk taking.  It had major losses driven by their exposures to a virtual hit list of high-risk lending; subprime mortgages, ‘Alt-A’ mortgages, ‘designer’ credit cards, leveraged loans, and poorly underwritten commercial real estate.  It had loaded up on exotic CDOs and auction-rate securities.  It was taking losses on credit default swaps entered into with weak counterparties, and it had relied on unstable volatile funding – a lot of short-term loans and foreign deposits.  If you wanted to make a definitive list of all the bad practices that had led to the crisis, all you had to do was look at Citi’s financial strategies…What’s more, virtually no meaningful supervisory measures had been taken against the bank by either the OCC or the NY Fed…Instead, the OCC and the NY Fed stood by as that sick bank continued to pay major dividends and pretended that it was healthy.”

But as this Frankenbank tanked, the top advisors to Presidential Candidate Barack Obama were asking three of its executives for advice on personnel and strategy.

Froman is now crafting his secret trade deals for Obama.  Jack Lew, after accepting a $940,000 bonus from insolvent Citigroup, was nominated by Obama to become U.S. Treasury Secretary and head of the Financial Stability Oversight Council (F-SOC) – the entity created under the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation to monitor the financial stability of the United States. Under Lew’s oversight, Citigroup now has more derivatives than 4,701 other U.S. banks combined.

Hillary Clinton has promised a third Obama term. What she failed to mention was that Obama actually delivered the third and fourth terms of the Clinton administration.

Given this reality, it is easy to understand why the Clinton team is anxious to assign nefarious motives to Russia for the WikiLeaks revelations. From our viewpoint, the hacked emails must be viewed as a critical window of light into how American democracy has been hopelessly corrupted under corporate campaign financing.

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