early and often

When Did Geithner Know About the Bonuses? Does It Matter?

As Bonusgate continues to unfold, we’re hearing conflicting reports of who knew what when, and it’s all kind of overwhelming, but bear with us. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has said he didn’t find out about the AIG bonuses until March 10. However, Time reports that the Fed informed the Treasury about the bonuses on February 28, and even predicted they could become a “hot-button issue” (correct!), although a source at Treasury is claiming career staffers didn’t pass this information on to Geithner. Meanwhile, AIG CEO Edward Liddy, in his testimony yesterday, claimed that Geithner knew about the bonuses a week to ten days earlier than he acknowledges. Oh, and the Washington Post says the Fed knew about the bonuses three months ago but didn’t tell anyone. None of this looks good for Geithner (or for the competence of the entire federal bureaucracy), but the question is whether he’s really at fault — and if this entire mystery is simply a distraction.

• Noam Scheiber is “starting to find the obsessive ‘what did Geithner/Obama know and when did he know it’ line of questioning a little tedious.” It’s ridiculous because this “was a small substantive mistake … and a huge political mistake.” It’s not helpful to focus so much on the political mistake when “we’ve got these huge substantive issues to deal with.” Besides, Geithner’s “far bigger concern throughout this time was preventing the global economy from self-immolating.” Zeroing in on $165 million in bonus money wouldn’t even be a “particularly good use of his time beyond a certain point.” [Stash/New Republic]

• Greg Sargent tries to reconcile the conflicting reports, and concludes that no matter when Geithner found out about the bonuses, the possibility that he knew about them earlier “provides opponents with a new hook to keep the ‘what Geithner knew and when’ questions on full boil today … at a time when the White House badly wants to move the conversation past the AIG mess and on to the larger narrative about the economic crisis.” [Plum Line/Who Runs Gov]

• Elana Schor says, “When the debate comes down to a Nixon-style ‘what did he know and when did he know it,’ things aren’t looking good. And we may have just reached that point for Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.” [TPM DC]

• Jennifer Rubin thinks “testimony under oath is the only way this will all come out.” [Contentions/Commentary]

• Justin Fox points out that a Bloomberg story reported on the bonuses on January 27, so perhaps if Geithner didn’t read the news, somebody should have told him. And all the people expressing outrage now should have done it back then. But either way, it’s possible that Geithner “figured his priority was fixing the banking system, and the bonuses were a side issue.” [Curious Capitalist/Time]

• John Carney isn’t surprised that “they’re pinning the blame on some low level staffer” for not communicating with Geithner. But if it could be proven that Geithner did know earlier than he’s claimed, perhaps through his e-mails, “then we expect calls for his removal.” [Clusterstock/Business Insider]

• George Stephanopoulos says that for Geithner “to shore up his long-term position,” his story has to hold up, and though officials “insist that it’s not unusual that this information was not passed up to Geithner given the rush of other issues they were dealing with,” the timeline questions “won’t stop yet.” [George’s Bottom Line/ABC News]

• Holly Bailey wonders if there’s anyone in Washington who “actually knows what’s going on with all the companies taxpayers have been bailing out for months” if even Geithner didn’t know about AIG’s bonuses. [Gaggle/Newsweek]

When Did Geithner Know About the Bonuses? Does It Matter?