Wall Street executives and senior people inside Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) say Lloyd Blankfein may want to hang on as CEO of the big Wall Street firm, but the final decision will not be his to make. Rather, his fate rests in the hands of the U.S. Justice Department, which is probing statements he made before a Senate committee investigating Goldman’s role in the 2008 financial crisis, FOX Business has learned.
If a probe by the DOJ into Goldman’s conduct ahead of the financial crisis is expedited and the focus turns to Blankfein’s actions, the thinking goes, Goldman’s board of directors will likely offer Blankfein up as a sacrifice in exchange for leniency.
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In recent months, Blankfein has given mixed signals as to whether he will stay with the firm as scrutiny on Goldman from regulators has heated up. As FOX Business first reported, Blankfein has told friends on Wall Street that he hates his job and wouldn’t mind leaving. But at a recent shareholders meeting he indicated he has no intention of stepping down, at least in the immediate future.
But people inside Goldman with knowledge of the bank’s strategy believe the manner in which Blankfein ultimately leaves the firm may not be up to the CEO, but instead involves just how far the Justice Department goes in pursuing a case against Goldman.
The DOJ probe stems from a referral made by Senator Carl Levin's (D-Mich.) committee based on Blankfein’s testimony last spring on the firm’s role in the financial crisis.
In a hearing recalled largely for Levin’s repeated use of a four-letter word, Blankfein denied that Goldman had made huge bets shorting the mortgage market, which allowed the firm to fare better than its competitors during the housing crisis.
Blankfein insisted Goldman had simply hedged against a downturn.
Levin's committee has discovered e-mails which describe the position as "the big short."
In any case, the betting on Wall Street is that the DOJ will not bring charges against Blankfein.
Instead, some people anticipate a scenario similar to what happened a decade ago involving Citigroup’s (NYSE:C) then-CEO Sandy Weill, who resigned as chief executive after Citigroup paid a large fine for its role in issuing fraudulent stock research during the tech boom of the late 1990s.
Weill wasn’t charged in the probe spearheaded by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, but he was said to have participated in the deceptive practices by asking former star telecom analyst Jack Grubman to take a "fresh look" at his negative rating on AT&T (NYSE:T).
Weill was an AT&T shareholder and AT&T was a major corporate finance customer of Citigroup. The move gained wider notoriety after Grubman upgraded AT&T and Weill supposedly helped Grubman get his children into an upscale Manhattan pre-school.
A spokesman for Goldman said Blankfein has no plans to step down.
"We have consistently said that the testimony we gave was truthful and accurate and that this is confirmed by the Subcommittee's own report," the spokesman said. "The report references testimony from Goldman Sachs witnesses who repeatedly and consistently acknowledged that we were intermittently net short during 2007. We did not have a massive net short position because our short positions were largely offset by our long positions, and our financial results clearly demonstrate this point.”