Tuesday, March 31, 2009

About Neil Wolin

Greg Sargent points out the fact that there is a lot of pushback on liberal and progressive blogs on Neil Wolin's nomination to be Tim Geitner's #2 at Treasury. Most of it stems from a biography, or to be more precise an excerpt of a biograpy, of Wolin on Sargent's blog. Here is the offense in question.

The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLB) passed in 1999, and it repealed the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 that banned banks from merging with insurance companies and brokerage firms. GLB made it legal for a bank to merge with other financial institutions, but the newly-formed company would have to submit to more oversight by the Federal Reserve. While the new law didn’t directly lead to the mortgage defaults and credit failure that crippled the banking industry in 2008, it did allow for the birth of giant financial companies like Citigroup. Citibank pushed the issue of repealing the Glass-Steagall Act in 1998, when Citibank and the insurance company Travelers announced a merger. (Congress’ passage of GLB ratified the Citibank and Travelers merger.(6) Citigroup has since spun-off Travelers.)

Many large, diverse financial institutions were deemed too big to fail when the credit market disintegrated in 2008.

As Treasury general counsel in 1999, Wolin oversaw the team of lawyers that helped draft the GLB bill that became law that year. Wolin "provided the technical and legal drafting," said Stuart Eizenstat, the deputy Treasury secretary in 1999 when the GLB bill was created.

Now somehow this has morphed from him providing the technical and legal advise on drafting the legislation to somehow him advocating or pushing for the legislation. Perhaps he did back then, but to date I have seen nothing to suggest he did and I am pretty sure neither have those who are pushing back against him. Its the old guilty by association game and now evidently Wolin is toxic. But the problem is there's more to Wolin in the profile that evidently those people haven't read.

Wolin went to Yale University where he earned a bachelor’s in history, graduating summa cum laude. Wolin then went to Oxford University as a Charles and Julia Henry Fellow, earning a master’s of science in development economics before getting a law degree at Yale.

After law school, Wolin worked at the venerable Washington, D.C. law firm of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering before joining the federal government as a special assistant to the director of the CIA. He worked under three directors at the nation’s top intelligence agency: William H. Webster, Robert M. Gates and R. James Woolsey. In 1993, Wolin moved to the NSA as a legal adviser. He would stay until 1995, when he left to work as a deputy general counsel at the Treasury under Secretary Robert Rubin.

Wolin stayed at the Treasury for six years, becoming general counsel to Secretary Lawrence H. Summers in 1999. In January 2001, Summers gave Wolin the Alexander Hamilton Award, the highest honor awarded to a Treasury official.(3)

Sounds like a pretty solid and diverse background right?

In June 2008, Wolin testified in front of the House Financial Services subcommittee on Capital Markets, Insurance and Government Sponsored Enterprises, in which he backed the creation of the federal Office of Insurance Information (OII) within the Treasury. “It would thereby create an insurance expert who serves as the principal federal advisor on domestic and international policy issues for all lines of insurance but health,” said Wolin. “In one stroke, we would answer the call for a single national voice on these important matters.”(8)

The creation of the OII was controversial because many felt it would create an oversight organization to which states’ insurance commissioners would have to answer.(9) The measure got through the subcommittee, and is still under consideration in the full Financial Services panel.

Now I don't know about you, but that doesn't sound like an advocate of deregulation to me. Hell he was working in the insurance industry and ASKING for more oversight. Hopefully those who are opposing him based on just the GLB Act will look a little bit deeper instead of just reflexively reacting negatively to the nomination.


  1. This guy's resume is actually pretty thin. He was a supporting lawyer in the CIA and NSA for the Clinton White House -- a back room guy. He was GC at Treasury for a lttle more than a year as the Clintons wound down. He is a Sumner guy with limited financial or leadership experience. He polished his resume with a few years as an insurance exec after serving mostly in a legal capacity at The Hartford.

    More importantly, Wolin plays over the line. He and his team, under business and litigation pressure, have destroyed documents, understated reserves, and filed misleading statements in state and federal courts. Some of this is already coming out in pending litigation. It deserves investigation.

    The issue is not whether he should be number two at Treasury, but why he is serving in the White House.

  2. Care to provide a link to any of the information you are accusing Wolin of?

  3. When Mr. Wolin worked as GC at Treasury during the Clinton Administration, as a career Senior Attorney I found him to be a superb manager that addressed difficult issues quickly and competently. While I did not work directly for him (far from it) he was one of the most ethical Presidential appointees I saw at Treasury.

    While I understand he was (and assume still is)a demanding manager, difficult issues were resolved effectively and efficiently (e.g. Secretary Rubin being held in Contempt because of ethical lapses by Treasury and Justice lawyers).

    Mr. Wolin is exactly what the new Secretary and Treasury needs.


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