Reuters reported Monday afternoon that Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein has hired the high-profile defense attorney Reid Weingarten. Goldman later confirmed to The New York Times that "Blankfein and other individuals who were expected to be interviewed in connection with the Justice Department’s inquiry into certain matters raised in the PSI [Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations] report hired counsel at the outset." It's not immediately clear what charges Blankfein might face, but based on what little we know about the DOJ's investigation into Goldman's role in the financial crisis and PSI chairman Sen. Carl Levin's past statements, however, perjury seems highly likely. Regardless, stockholders's concern was reflected in a 5.9 percent drop in Goldman share price after the new broke.
Sen. Levin hinted at a perjury charges at the end of his two-year-long Senate probe into the causes of the financial crisis this April: "In my judgment, Goldman clearly misled their clients and they misled the Congress." When he sent the report to the Attorney General, Levin asked federal prosecutors to review whether or not Blankfein and other Goldman executives who testified should face perjury charges for his 2010 testimony. A Goldman spokesperson denied any inconsistencies at the time, a move that weighs heavy on the Blankfein-Weingarten revelation. Journalists latched on to the possibility of the perjury charge, however, because compared the more complex allegations of institutional corruption that could be buried in years of legal paperwork, perjury seems a pretty cut-and-dry charge. Matt Taibbi, the reporter who famously called Goldman Sachs the "Great Vampire Squid," wrote in Rolling Stone about a month after the Levin report came out:
Lloyd Blankfein went to Washington and testified under oath that Goldman Sachs didn't make a massive short bet and didn't bet against its clients. The Levin report proves that Goldman spent the whole summer of 2007 riding a "big short" and took a multibillion-dollar bet against its clients, a bet that incidentally made them enormous profits. Are we all missing something? Is there some different and higher standard of triple- and quadruple-lying that applies to bank CEOs but not to baseball players?
We know now that the Roger Clemens trial has turned out to be a little bit more complicated than expected, and a formal federal prosecutor told Reuters that "perjury cases were difficult to prove, adding that prosecutors would not bring charges unless they had a 'rock solid case.'"
The DOJ is up against stiff competition from Blankfein's lawyer in either case. Weingarten's past clients are a notorious bunch which includes former WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers, accused pedophile Roman Polanski and former Enron accounting officer Richard Causey. Weingarten also happens to be close friends with Attorney General Eric Holder.
All things considered, however, news that Blankfein hired criminal defense hit Goldman's stock especially hard. Shares had been trading at $112, but plummeted to $105, a two-year low. "Wow," wrote Mark Gongloff at The Wall Street Journal. "The Vampire Squid just got squished."