Today on the Hill, Representative Elijah Cummings tried hard to cajole Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis into smack-talking former Treasury secretary Henry Paulson and Fed chair Ben Bernanke for putting pressure on him to buy Merrill Lynch. In his alloted five minutes of questioning, Cummings employed an impressive array of psychological tactics.
• Flattery: “You’re a great man,” he told him.
• Confronting Him With His Own Words: “Lemme read something to you,” he said. “This is what you told your board. It says the Treasury and Fed stated strongly that were the corporation to revoke a material adverse change in the merger agreement with Merrill Lynch, and failed to close the transaction, the Treasury and Fed would remove the board and management of the corporation. Dramatic pause. “If that wasn’t a threat, I don’t know what is. If I said I was going to fire you … not only am I going to fire you, I’m going to fire your board! That’s a threat.”
• Empathy: I know you were in a difficult position. But no matter how great Bank of America is doing today, the means does not justify the end … I know you’re trying to be nice, but here we’ve got a situation where apparently Mr. Paulson has told you do it. Like the Nike commercial. Just DO IT.”
• Bargaining: “Then you come in here trying to tell us, oh no, I was worried, the sky is falling, I was just sooo upset. And we don’t buy it. So I’m going to give you another chance. You didn’t feel threatened?”
At which point Lewis, who looked terrified, actually tried to speak. “Well,” he sputtered. I have been pretty consistent — as you said — ”
Then Cummings gave it one last push. “Don’t let us tell you how you feel,” he said. “Maybe you need to be inconsistent, and tell us how you felt.”
It was pretty intense. Here’s the clip from CSPAN. Unfortunately it doesn’t end with Lewis melting into Cummings’s embrace like Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting, but it’s pretty enjoyable nonetheless.