Let’s Stop the Bailout Fraud Before It Starts

Bill Moyers interviews Neil Barofsky, who as Special Inspector General uncovered rampant corruption in the $700 billion 2008 Wall Street bailout.

Bill Moyers

On March 27, President Donald Trump signed the $2.2 trillion stimulus bill, making it the largest-ever rescue package in American history. (Getty Images)

This tran­script below is from the April 1 episode of Moy­ers on Democracy.

The big financial institutions who were obviously the biggest winners of the last bailout, they’re gonna win again. They always win. That’s kinda the way our system is organized.

As a young fed­er­al attor­ney and pros­e­cu­tor, Neil Barof­sky had sent crooked financiers to jail and brought Colum­bia drug deal­ers to jus­tice. When over­reach­ing and greedy bankers almost brought the Amer­i­can econ­o­my down a dozen years ago, Con­gress raced to the res­cue with a bailout of over $750 bil­lion dol­lars, known as the Trou­bled Asset Relief Pro­gram. As its watch­dog, Pres­i­dent George W. Bush tapped Neil Barof­sky to be TARP’s chief inspec­tor gen­er­al, its top cop, with a man­date to flush out waste, fraud and abuse.

He would soon be rec­og­nized as one of the most impres­sive polit­i­cal offi­cials in Wash­ing­ton.” This week I asked him to rec­ol­lect his expe­ri­ence with TARP and how he would safe­guard the two tril­lion dol­lar gov­ern­ment pro­gram passed last week by Con­gress to res­cue an econ­o­my crip­pled from the coronavirus.

We talked by tele­phone from our respec­tive home offices, hope­ful­ly shut­tered against the virus itself.

Bill Moy­ers: How are you, Neil? This is Bill.

Neil Barof­sky: I’m good, Bill. Thank you. I hope you’re doing well, and safe as well.

Bill Moy­ers: I am, under the cir­cum­stances. And you’re at home, work­ing, there, right?

Neil Barof­sky: Yes, I’m in the same posi­tion as a lot of peo­ple today who are try­ing to bal­ance work and fam­i­ly, and home-school­ing two ele­men­tary school stu­dents, which is a lot more chal­leng­ing than my day job, so far at least.

Bill Moy­ers: It’s hard to believe that a decade ago, the gov­ern­ment spent more than $1 tril­lion to bail out com­pa­nies and stim­u­late the econ­o­my. And that you had a front-line role and a front-row seat at the time after George W. Bush, Pres­i­dent Bush appoint­ed you. You were the spe­cial inves­ti­ga­tor track­ing that mon­ey as it was being spent. Remind our read­ers and lis­ten­ers why we need­ed a spe­cial inves­ti­ga­tor 10 years ago, and exact­ly what you did.

Neil Barof­sky: Well, I think it was [that] Con­gress sort of under­stood that when they were going to be push­ing out so much mon­ey over such a short peri­od of time — and back then it was to the banks, right? The mon­ey was going to the very insti­tu­tions that had caused the mas­sive finan­cial cri­sis that we were all liv­ing and breath­ing and expe­ri­enc­ing back in 2008 — that it would be a good idea to have some­one there to keep an eye on the mon­ey [and] to be an advo­cate for the tax­pay­ers, whose mon­ey was being expend­ed. And so they cre­at­ed this office, the Office of the Spe­cial Inspec­tor Gen­er­al, for the Trou­bled Asset Relief Pro­gram. And that mouthful—

Bill Moy­ers: Wow.

Neil Barof­sky: —pro­duced one of the great acronyms of gov­ern­ment, SIG­TARP, which was my office, to keep an eye on the mon­ey. And we did that. Con­gress cre­at­ed this office to do it in two ways. One was a trans­paren­cy or report­ing func­tion. We did audits of the gov­ern­ment pro­grams. Kept track of what was going on in the poli­cies, and report­ed that out to the Amer­i­can peo­ple and to Congress. 

And the oth­er side was law enforce­ment. We were like a mini FBI for the TARP, polic­ing the pro­gram, deter­ring would-be crim­i­nals from try­ing to apply and steal gov­ern­ment mon­ey — and inves­ti­gat­ing and refer­ring for pros­e­cu­tion, those who did. And they cer­tain­ly did. At least, they tried. And our job was to catch them, and make sure that they went to jail.

Bill Moy­ers: I have this image of you in my mind, the sher­iff mak­ing sure the stage­coach car­ry­ing the mon­ey from the trea­sury to the bank didn’t get hijacked.

Neil Barof­sky: That is a much more roman­tic vision—

Bill Moy­ers: Is that fair?

Neil Barof­sky: —of my job. A much more roman­tic vision of my job. Think more of… The Office,” I would say, on the reruns on Net­flix, is prob­a­bly a more apt descrip­tion of sit­ting behind a desk and push­ing a lot of papers and rely­ing on just a tru­ly won­der­ful­ly tal­ent­ed team of inves­ti­ga­tors who actu­al­ly wore the guns and the badges, and went out there and did these inves­ti­ga­tions. I was more of the bureau­crat than the sheriff—

Bill Moy­ers: From a pret­ty mediocre office in the base­ment of the Trea­sury, if I remem­ber cor­rect­ly. And you had a very small staff, giv­en the chal­lenge you were facing.

Neil Barof­sky: Yeah. Well, one of the things about the statute is they cre­at­ed the office from scratch, which means I was the first employ­ee. So we had no office space. We had no employ­ees. I was employ­ee num­ber one. And so when we first start­ed, they put me in a base­ment cor­ner of the Trea­sury Depart­ment in that beau­ti­ful sort of amaz­ing build­ing right on Penn­syl­va­nia Avenue, right next to the White House.

Although one couldn’t see the White House from my sub­ter­ranean spot. And it also had a ter­ri­ble smell to it that I will nev­er for­get, and lat­er found out it was because it was actu­al­ly over an open sewage pipe that was right under the office.

But more con­cern­ing was just try­ing to get up to speed as hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars were fly­ing out the door with no staff, and try­ing to staff up and do all that at once was a dra­mat­ic expe­ri­ence, to put it mild­ly. And cer­tain­ly one I will nev­er forget.

Bill Moy­ers: Your job was to see that this mas­sive cor­po­rate bailout would be man­aged in such a way that it would accom­plish its mis­sion. And remind us of what that mis­sion was.

Neil Barof­sky: When it was described to the Amer­i­can peo­ple, and when it ulti­mate­ly passed Con­gress — and if you may recall, the first time the leg­is­la­tion that enabled the TARP to exist, it failed in Con­gress. And even­tu­al­ly, it was passed. And I think one of the rea­sons why it failed was as orig­i­nal­ly envi­sioned, it was real­ly all about help­ing Wall Street.

And a num­ber of mem­bers of Con­gress didn’t like that, and weren’t sup­port­ive of that. And so it came back to the admin­is­tra­tion, and [they] said that this would help Main Street as well as Wall Street. And the two big promis­es that were made were 1) that yes, banks would receive this mon­ey. But they would do so in order to increase lending.

Because if you may remem­ber, cred­it had just come to a stand­still at that time. And so the idea of inject­ing this mon­ey would increase lend­ing to make sure that the wheels of cap­i­tal­ism could keep turn­ing. And the sec­ond promise was to help strug­gling homeowners.

Because as, you may recall, a fore­clo­sure tsuna­mi was sweep­ing across the coun­try. And because of the preda­to­ry prac­tices of the banks, and oth­er finan­cial insti­tu­tions in the lead-up to the cri­sis, mil­lions of Amer­i­cans were in homes with mort­gages that they couldn’t afford and didn’t under­stand. And one of the real demands was that this incred­i­ble out­pour­ing of tax­pay­er assis­tance helped them too, the vic­tims of the finan­cial cri­sis, who were los­ing their homes, their hopes and their dreams, by the millions.

Bill Moy­ers: Were those two goals accom­plished — to jump­start bank lend­ing, and to pro­tect home­own­ers from foreclosure?

Neil Barof­sky: Sad­ly, no. The cri­sis was avert­ed. And that’s a good thing. And lend­ing restart­ed, which was a good thing. But the goal of increas­ing lend­ing, of giv­ing an oppor­tu­ni­ty for Main Street busi­ness­es to get the cap­i­tal that they need­ed, and the cred­it they need­ed, that nev­er real­ly happened.

I think in part because but it wasn’t real­ly that strong of an effort with­in the Trea­sury Depart­ment to keep an eye towards increas­ing lend­ing, towards help­ing Main Street. When we sug­gest­ed that con­di­tions be imposed on the funds to make sure that the mon­ey was used by the banks in order to increase lend­ing, we were shot down.

When we sug­gest­ed that it at least be incen­tivized, that there be favor­able inter­est pay­ments on the loans and the type of pre­ferred stock that was being acquired by the Trea­sury Depart­ment to give the banks an incen­tive to increase lend­ing, that too was shot down.

And you nev­er saw that increase in lend­ing that was promised. And as far as the home­own­ers, that was even more dev­as­tat­ing. Because there was so much mon­ey that was made avail­able to help strug­gling home­own­ers. Hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars that could have been used to help those who were los­ing their homes and saw their lives devastated.

And the Trea­sury Depart­ment sim­ply refused to deploy that money. 

And the deci­sion was made quite frankly to let them rot. And what was rolled out was an inef­fec­tive pro­gram that in many cas­es made it worse for some of those strug­gling home­own­ers than if they had nev­er entered the pro­gram at all. Because it encour­aged preda­to­ry prac­tices by the banks.

And the thing that under­lined the fail­ure of both of these poli­cies was the same. The con­cern was nev­er real­ly about help­ing home­own­ers or help­ing small busi­ness­es. It was only about sav­ing the banks for the sake of sav­ing the banks. And so when the Trea­sury Sec­re­tary was con­front­ed by now-Sen­a­tor Eliz­a­beth War­ren, then the head of one of my sis­ter over­sight agen­cies, about the failed hous­ing pro­grams, he [Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Tim Gei­th­n­er] explained in very plain words that the point of this pro­gram was, and I quote, To foam the run­way for the banks.”

In oth­er words, too many fore­clo­sures too quick­ly could be dev­as­tat­ing to the banks’ bal­ance sheets — [and] could send them back for addi­tion­al bailouts — and that was what they were con­cerned about, not the tax­pay­er, not the peo­ple who were sup­posed to be helped.

And when you divorce pol­i­cy goals with the actu­al poli­cies as they’re car­ried out, you’re not going to achieve the impor­tant pol­i­cy goals that serve as the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for tril­lion dol­lar bailouts. And that’s what we saw then. And that’s what I hope we don’t see now.

Bill Moy­ers: So you were with­in Trea­sury. Yet, the Trea­sury Depart­ment made deals, as I under­stand it, with major finan­cial insti­tu­tions, and sim­ply did not tell you about them. That was wrong, wasn’t it?

Neil Barof­sky: Yeah, there was an oblig­a­tion of trans­paren­cy, real­ly for any­thing that touched on any of the TARP funds. And so there was a need to be able to dis­close to us all of the nec­es­sary infor­ma­tion that we would need to ful­fill our goal of pro­vid­ing trans­paren­cy to Con­gress and [to] the Amer­i­can people.

And at times, Trea­sury failed to live up to that stan­dard. And we had to do what we need­ed to do to make sure we got that infor­ma­tion. And usu­al­ly, that was rely­ing on assis­tance from Con­gress. The pres­sure and over­sight of Con­gress would often move Trea­sury in those instances when we wouldn’t be able to get the infor­ma­tion that we needed.

Bill Moy­ers: You felt a lot of pres­sure — I still think your book Bailout is one of the most impor­tant to read. Tell my audi­ence where that pres­sure came from, and what were you to do in response to it?

Neil Barof­sky: Well, first of all, thank you for the kind com­ments about the book. The pres­sures came from a lot of dif­fer­ent direc­tions. I mean, I was, look­ing back on it now, rel­a­tive­ly young. I was in my late 30s.

I’d just got­ten mar­ried. I was just start­ing a fam­i­ly. And, you know, I was told in no uncer­tain terms that because of my approach, and because of my will­ing­ness to be as crit­i­cal as I believed was nec­es­sary when ful­fill­ing my job of peo­ple in the Trea­sury Depart­ment or at the White House, that I was putting my future in jeopardy.

That my abil­i­ty to get a job, or make a liv­ing on the oth­er side of this assign­ment, which was by its very nature, was a tem­po­rary one — that it would be real­ly hard for me. That there would be reper­cus­sions. And on the oth­er hand, I was told that if I played ball, if I changed my tone, was a lit­tle bit nicer and kinder, all sorts of real­ly good things could hap­pen to me.

I could be a fed­er­al judge, or maybe a U.S. attor­ney or some­thing like that. You know, dream jobs for any young lawyer. And so that was def­i­nite­ly a form of pres­sure. And, you know, you’re inde­pen­dent. But as an inspec­tor gen­er­al, you serve at the plea­sure of the pres­i­dent. And you know, the specter of being fired from your job, par­tic­u­lar­ly when, like me, you spend your entire career in gov­ern­ment ser­vice. And didn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly have the largest amount of sav­ings when start­ing a new fam­i­ly. Those were def­i­nite­ly real pres­sures that you feel, as any human being would in a job like that.

Bill Moy­ers: So Pres­i­dent Bush appoint­ed you in the last year of his admin­is­tra­tion, as the econ­o­my fell apart, the banks were crash­ing. And you then served under Pres­i­dent Oba­ma when he came in. Was the pres­sure greater from the Bush peo­ple than it was from the Oba­ma people?

Neil Barof­sky: I think the over­all feel of every­thing real­ly didn’t change that much. I think when I was there, I would sort of remem­ber cir­cling Jan­u­ary 20, 2009 on the cal­en­dar because I thought, Okay, once we get past the Bush admin­is­tra­tion and the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion peo­ple come in, this is gonna be com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent. Everything’s going to change. There’s gonna be more of a focus on wor­ry­ing about the Main Street, and peo­ple who are sup­posed to benefit.”

And, of course, when that day came and went, very lit­tle had changed. Some of the per­son­nel stayed the same. But even the new peo­ple who came in run­ning the pro­gram real­ly had that same phi­los­o­phy as those in the Bush admin­is­tra­tion of pri­or­i­tiz­ing sav­ing the banks over every­thing else.

And there was a thin-skinned-ness, for sure, among that Trea­sury Depart­ment, that any type of crit­i­cism, con­struc­tive or oth­er­wise, was not viewed favor­ably, and was viewed as being polit­i­cal and not nec­es­sar­i­ly moti­vat­ed by a desire to serve the job, or to make the pro­grams better.

Bill Moy­ers: Well, why were they pres­sur­ing you? What were you doing that they want­ed you to cease?

Neil Barof­sky: I think they didn’t appre­ci­ate the fact that although I was appoint­ed by Pres­i­dent Bush, a Repub­li­can, I was and am and have been a life­long Demo­c­rat. And I think that the notion that some­one who is a Demo­c­rat would be crit­i­cal of a Demo­c­ra­t­ic admin­is­tra­tion, reeked of a type of disloyalty.

And Wash­ing­ton is a very polit­i­cal town, Bill, as you know bet­ter than any­one. And what I think was hard for peo­ple to under­stand was that I didn’t have a polit­i­cal job. It wasn’t my job to go soft­er on one admin­is­tra­tion or harsh­er on anoth­er admin­is­tra­tion because they hap­pened to be with­in the same polit­i­cal par­ty that I was.

And I think that that real­ly weighed on peo­ple, and felt like it was an act of dis­loy­al­ty. And that if I’m crit­i­ciz­ing a Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­dent, that must mean I’m car­ry­ing water for the Repub­li­cans. And, of course, it couldn’t be any far­ther from the truth.

I was not polit­i­cal­ly moti­vat­ed in any way. And I believe that by being crit­i­cal of the Democ­rats or the admin­is­tra­tion, I was try­ing to get them to be bet­ter. And when you think about where we are today, and you think about the elec­tion of 2016, can you imag­ine how dif­fer­ent our polit­i­cal land­scape might look right now if the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion took hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars and sup­port­ed that wide part of the Rust Belt that ulti­mate­ly left the Demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ty in 2016?

By sav­ing those peo­ple, keep­ing them in their homes, beat­ing against the per­cep­tion that the pri­or­i­ty was for Wall Street, and not for Main Street. So I felt like what I was doing was just to help and advo­cate for [the] Amer­i­can peo­ple. And I think that if the admin­is­tra­tion had lis­tened a lit­tle bit more close­ly and a lit­tle bit more care­ful­ly, we could be in a dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion right now, politically.

Bill Moy­ers: You wrote in your book Bailout that you found your­self in a duplic­i­tous world. In what sense was it duplicitous?

Neil Barof­sky: I think one of the inter­est­ing things of Wash­ing­ton for some­one who had not pre­vi­ous­ly been there was the com­fort and fre­quen­cy with which peo­ple lie to one anoth­er. It is not some­thing that I had expe­ri­enced. And I had spent eight years as a pros­e­cu­tor pros­e­cut­ing fraud cas­es and nar­cotics cases.

And the lies were almost like a cur­ren­cy in Wash­ing­ton. Peo­ple would lie to you, and, I mean, peo­ple with­in the gov­ern­ment would lie to you. And you would know they were lying. And they would know that you knew they were lying.

And they would lie nonethe­less, as this is just the nor­mal way peo­ple com­mu­ni­cate with each oth­er. And I guess it was a some­what — I mean, I would hate to describe myself as being naïve. Because, you know, I’d spent eight years in the trench­es with some tru­ly hor­rif­ic human beings, and fraud­sters who com­mit­ted bil­lions of dol­lars of fraud.

But I’d not seen any­thing like it, where just the pre­sump­tion lev­el of dis­hon­esty, that real­ly per­me­at­ed the town. And so it took me a lit­tle bit to real­ize it, and to real­ize that gov­ern­ment offi­cials who were pres­i­den­tial­ly appoint­ed, and you ask them for infor­ma­tion, and they give you infor­ma­tion, where they tell you some­thing, and they’re not telling you the truth.

And you almost have to, at least include in your cal­cu­lus the pos­si­bil­i­ty that somebody’s lying to you all the time. And it was ear­ly on when I think I sud­den­ly real­ized it, when I was told that Eliz­a­beth War­ren, who as I men­tioned before, was run­ning anoth­er over­sight agency.

It was before she was a sen­a­tor, of course, the con­gres­sion­al over­sight pan­el. I was told about all the ter­ri­ble things that she was say­ing about me. And at first I was tak­en aback. And then I real­ized that there’s no way that could pos­si­bly be true. It made absolute­ly no sense. And I called Elizabeth.

And we start­ed col­lab­o­rat­ing togeth­er. But it was a light-bulb moment when I real­ized that there’s just noth­ing peo­ple won’t say if they think they can gain advan­tage from it. And it’s a very strange way to oper­ate when you’re not used to it.

Bill Moy­ers: Have you seen any evi­dence that Wash­ing­ton has changed in the last 10 years for the better?

Neil Barof­sky: The cur­ren­cy of dis­hon­esty has got­ten, if any­thing, has got­ten worse. I think that this whole con­cept of fake news, and hav­ing every­one being enti­tled to their own set of facts is not some­thing that we experienced.

I mean, ulti­mate­ly if we were lied to, and could prove that some­thing was a lie, it was gen­er­al­ly accept­ed that okay, this is the truth. And this is a lie. In this envi­ron­ment, peo­ple are caught lying, and they just insist they’re telling the truth. And one media out­let or anoth­er will con­firm that some­thing that’s demon­stra­bly untrue is, in fact, the truth.

And every­one goes into their dif­fer­ent tribes and their dif­fer­ent areas. And they just bat­tle. And you know, as a lawyer and some­one who spent some peri­od of their career in the Depart­ment of Jus­tice, which was always about the pur­suit of truth, and then at my time at SIG­TARP when I tried to do the exact same thing, it’s — that lev­el of aban­don­ment of the con­cept of the truth is different.

It is dif­fer­ent. They lied then. They lied now. That hasn’t changed. But the way those lies are per­ceived, and how peo­ple have their alter­nate real­i­ties, I think that’s very dif­fer­ent, and very scary as we go into this next crisis.

Bill Moy­ers: So what do you think are the chances that this new and even more expen­sive stim­u­lus enact­ed by Con­gress last week will achieve its goals? 

Neil Barof­sky: Well there are a bunch of dif­fer­ent pro­grams that are with­in this leg­is­la­tion. And some of the goals are rel­a­tive­ly sim­ple to dis­cern. Cut­ting checks of $1,200 each to each tax­pay­er — you know, who’s mak­ing less than $79,000.

That’s a pret­ty clear goal. I mean, the goal is to get cash in people’s pock­ets so they can con­tin­ue to eat and pay their rent and sur­vive. You know, expand­ing unem­ploy­ment, again, that is a dis­cernible goal, and a very admirable one, right?

Peo­ple are los­ing their jobs. We’re gonna have his­toric unem­ploy­ment very soon if we don’t already have it. And get­ting peo­ple relief is just so vital­ly impor­tant. And so for those goals, I think there’s a straight line between what the pol­i­cy is, what the imple­men­ta­tion is, and what will hap­pen. It’s pret­ty straightforward.

I think as you get more and more dis­con­nect­ed from direct help to indi­vid­u­als to fil­ter­ing that mon­ey through cor­po­ra­tions and tax breaks and oth­er types of mech­a­nisms, it becomes a lit­tle bit less clear whether or not the con­nec­tion between the mon­ey that is spent — and the achieve­ment of the goal of help­ing work­ers, if that’s in fact what our stat­ed goals are. And so—

Bill Moy­ers: My under­stand­ing is that it’s sup­posed to enable cor­po­ra­tions to pre­serve the jobs of the peo­ple who work for them until we get this dis­ease under control. 

Neil Barof­sky: But the gen­er­al idea of it is we’re gonna take $350 bil­lion. We’re gonna give it to small busi­ness­es. And we’re gonna tell them as long as you don’t fire any­one for a peri­od of time, for eight weeks, you get to keep all the mon­ey, right?

And so that’s a pret­ty clear line between get­ting small busi­ness­es the mon­ey they need to keep employ­ees on staff, and there’s some holes in the leg­is­la­tion and I hope and pray that the small busi­ness admin­is­tra­tion will plug those holes.

But then you have the $500 bil­lion pro­gram being run by the Trea­sury Depart­ment and the Fed­er­al Reserve. And there, again, you have more of a dis­con­nect between the mon­ey and how it’s going to be deployed, and its impact it’s going to have on payrolls.

For a lot of that mon­ey, there isn’t that direct link. There aren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly those con­di­tions that link the sup­port with keep­ing pay­rolls high. And so there, it’s much more of a let’s put the mon­ey out there, and hope that every­one keeps their pay­rolls the same.

And so when you’re doing that, obvi­ous­ly, when you don’t have those con­nec­tions, and you don’t have that same assur­ance, that there’s an eco­nom­ic incen­tive for the com­pa­ny to be receiv­ing the mon­ey to achieve the pol­i­cy goal, well, that kin­da brings us back to where we are in 2008.

And it didn’t work then. And I do wor­ry about whether it’s going to work now. But again, we also don’t know all the rules and the reg­u­la­tions and the guide­lines that’s going to accom­pa­ny these bills. But the fact that Con­gress real­ly didn’t insist on the strings attached to a lot of this mon­ey that I think we orig­i­nal­ly had been told they would, is a cause of concern.

That those pol­i­cy goals may not be reached. And then there are oth­er pro­vi­sions which seem even fur­ther afield, tax breaks — net oper­at­ing loss pro­vi­sions mon­ey for the real estate indus­try, which just looks like tra­di­tion­al cor­po­rate tax breaks, which frankly have not his­tor­i­cal­ly been shown to nec­es­sar­i­ly have an impact on payrolls.

Bill Moy­ers: Doesn’t this new bailout, include a pro­vi­sion which allows the Fed to meet in secret with no records kept? I mean what the hell is that about?

Neil Barof­sky: It’s not encour­ag­ing, Bill. It is not encour­ag­ing. To put it mild­ly. And I see that. But the results should still be post­ed and made avail­able to the Amer­i­can peo­ple. Good gov­er­nance says you keep records, and you keep detailed documents.

And again, maybe this is me going back to 2008 and just being naïve. But hav­ing spent a lot of time work­ing with the Fed­er­al Reserve, I found that many of the peo­ple there, and many of the peo­ple I dealt with, not all to be clear, but many of them, and I would say the over­whelm­ing major­i­ty, were try­ing to do the right thing, and want­ed to do the right thing. I sort of main­tain hope that they will do the right thing with this.

Bill Moy­ers: Are the peo­ple who won the first time gonna win the sec­ond time?

Neil Barof­sky: There’ll be dif­fer­ent sets of win­ners and losers. The big finan­cial insti­tu­tions who were obvi­ous­ly the biggest win­ners of the last bailout, they’re gonna win again. They always win. That’s kin­da the way our sys­tem is organized.

Per­haps not as dra­mat­i­cal­ly as last time. Because remem­ber, last time, they caused the cri­sis. They would have failed, gone bank­rupt, but for the gov­ern­ment inter­ven­tion. And they were restored to record-break­ing prof­itabil­i­ty with­in a rel­a­tive­ly short peri­od of time because of the way the bailouts were struc­tured, get­ting them big­ger and even more pow­er­ful than they were going in.

So they won before. They’re gonna win again. They’re gonna be well paid for their ser­vices in help­ing to admin­is­ter this bailout. There are pro­vi­sions that are very help­ful for them, includ­ing bring­ing back some cri­sis era bailout pro­grams that will go right to their bot­tom line, for sure.

So they will win again. But the oth­er win­ners — it’s gonna be a wider swath of winners.

Last time you had the very insti­tu­tions that caused the prob­lems receiv­ing the mon­ey. And a lot of the com­pa­nies that are gonna receive bailout mon­ey here or stim­u­lus mon­ey, if you wan­na call it that, it’s through no fault of their own. They didn’t cre­ate the virus. They didn’t sub­ject them­selves to the virus. This is just a glob­al pandemic.

But there will be com­pa­nies that are safe because of it. And so to that extent, they’re the win­ners. And then there’s com­pa­nies that are just gonna make lots of prof­its that is just a result of some of the wheel­ing and deal­ing of Con­gress. When you look at some of the extra­or­di­nary cor­po­rate tax breaks that are being extend­ed by this bill, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the real estate indus­try, those are just gonna be win­ners, right. We just have to hope that it’s not the same set of losers as last time, which is the Amer­i­can peo­ple who were sup­posed to be helped.

Bill Moy­ers: Lis­ten to these head­lines I brought with me. Wash­ing­ton Post: Coro­n­avirus stim­u­lus pack­age spurs a lob­by­ing gold rush.” The Guardian: Wash­ing­ton lob­by­ists in fren­zied bat­tle to secure bil­lion dol­lar Coro­n­avirus bailouts.” The Wall Street Jour­nal: Law­mak­ers pack fed­er­al stim­u­lus bill with pet pro­vi­sions.” New York Times: Fine print of stim­u­lus bill con­tains spe­cial deals for indus­tries.” I mean, that hap­pened after the first bailout, right? And it’s hap­pen­ing all over again.

Neil Barof­sky: And we unfor­tu­nate­ly, we should not be sur­prised. Right? I mean one of the real­i­ties of our sys­tem is that cor­po­rate Amer­i­ca has a large influ­ence on how these bills play out. And, again, we saw it maybe on minia­ture last time because it was real­ly one indus­try that was part of this process.

And now, when you have some­thing as far-reach­ing as this, it is the entire lob­by­ing indus­try and pet projects and the things that don’t seem to quite fit with the rest of the bill that are in here, and to me, that’s where it would come back to my old role of over­sight and why it’s so important.

Because when you have some­thing as sprawl­ing and ill-defined as some of these pro­grams, there’s very, very lit­tle guid­ance and guide­lines as to who that mon­ey is going to and how it’s going to be spent, and what the con­di­tions are. Over­sight and trans­paren­cy just becomes so much more impor­tant, in order to keep the process as lev­el and fair as possible.

Bill Moy­ers: Where­as the first bailout involved one indus­try, bank­ing. And here, there’s a vast num­ber of poten­tial recip­i­ents of the mon­ey. How real is the dan­ger that, rather than pre­serve jobs, the mon­ey will flow right through the com­pa­ny and the com­pa­nies into the pock­ets of shareholders? 

Neil Barof­sky: I mean, one of the impor­tant things to remem­ber is that for a large, large chunk of this mon­ey — par­tic­u­lar­ly that that’s being con­trolled by Trea­sury, for the over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of that mon­ey — there are no pro­vi­sions that the Trea­sury Sec­re­tary can’t waive if he choos­es to do so, that would keep com­pa­nies from engag­ing in stock buy-backs or div­i­dends or oth­er dis­tri­b­u­tion of mon­ey direct­ly to shareholders.

And so with­out those types of restric­tions, that is very much a pos­si­bil­i­ty, and it is very much real­i­ty of the way this is structured.

You must have unre­lent­ing trans­paren­cy and sun­shine being shined on the deci­sion-mak­ing process, the terms and per­for­mance of these pro­grams. It is of vital impor­tance that there’s at least the risk of dis­clo­sure as a deter­rent, in fram­ing these pro­grams, to keep­ing them from stray­ing from the stat­ed pol­i­cy goal into a form of giant cor­po­rate welfare.

Bill Moy­ers: Giv­en the huge amount of mon­ey, and the short time until the elec­tion in Novem­ber, isn’t polit­i­cal fraud a real pos­si­bil­i­ty? Couldn’t a lot of this mon­ey be a kind of slush fund for the pres­i­dent and the Sec­re­tary of the Trea­sury and their min­ions to send it where it could do their par­ty the most good?

Neil Barof­sky: And in this bill that real pos­si­bil­i­ty is one that again, com­ing back to the over­sight, is so impor­tant. Because this is where, you know, to quote Jus­tice Bran­deis, Sun­light is the best dis­in­fec­tant.” This is why the appli­ca­tion cri­te­ria for lend­ing needs to be objec­tive and trans­par­ent. The process­es have to be polit­i­cal­ly blind.

And there has to be some­one over­see­ing this process to make sure that, how­ev­er the selec­tion process­es are run, that they’re being done in a con­sis­tent and fair and bal­anced way. Because in the dark­ness, that is where the abil­i­ty to mis­di­rect funds away from where they’re going to have the biggest impact, which is what you want, to a way that has the biggest impact for a par­tic­u­lar indi­vid­ual or polit­i­cal par­ty, or par­tic­u­lar favored indus­try, which we don’t want. Right? That defeats the whole pur­pose of the expen­di­ture of this mon­ey that’s not being used to achieve a pol­i­cy goal of keep­ing peo­ple in their jobs.

And it is only with trans­paren­cy, and only with over­sight. Because look, Wash­ing­ton is a trans­ac­tion­al town. It always has been. It is an incred­i­ble cor­rupt­ing influ­ence that exists, that has always exist­ed, and prob­a­bly always will exist. And it is naïve to think that it won’t hap­pen if there’s not some oth­er counter-weigh­ing bal­ance. And that’s where you need to have trans­paren­cy and over­sight as this con­stant reminder that, Hey, if you do this, if you fol­low that incli­na­tion and do some­thing that’s not in the best inter­est of the pro­gram, we’re gonna put it on the web­site. We’re gonna pub­li­cize it. Everyone’s gonna know. And that polit­i­cal oppor­tu­ni­ty you have is going to turn it into a liability.”

And that’s how you keep peo­ple hon­est. And that’s why trans­paren­cy is so impor­tant. And in some ways, for the, sort of the next-rung-lev­el-down offi­cials, the assis­tant sec­re­taries who, you know, who are polit­i­cal appointees that are tak­ing these jobs because they wan­na make a dif­fer­ence and do it right, it is a giant bless­ing to them. Because it helps shield them from the polit­i­cal process.

I remem­ber when we were doing audits relat­ed to Con­gres­sion­al influ­ence on deci­sion-mak­ing process. And, you know, we found, per­haps not sur­pris­ing­ly, that many mem­bers of Con­gress called many deci­sion-mak­ers at Trea­sury and said, Hey, we want the bank in our dis­trict to get mon­ey,” irre­spec­tive of whether that bank should have got­ten mon­ey or should not have got­ten money.

And one of the things that we were able to help and pro­tect those offi­cials was [by] say­ing, Look. If you give mon­ey to these peo­ple, to these banks that don’t deserve it, it’s gonna be exposed. And that’s not gonna do you any favors. It’s also not gonna do that con­gress­man any favors.”

And so trans­paren­cy is some­thing that just real­ly ben­e­fits the entire sys­tem and process, and is real­ly a nec­es­sary com­po­nent of over­sight. And so we’re gonna have to real­ly keep a close eye on this as we go forward.

Bill Moy­ers: Mitch McConnell and Sen­ate Repub­li­cans did not want over­sight of the stim­u­lus. They didn’t even want to require com­pa­nies to spend the mon­ey on keep­ing their work­ers working.

They want­ed the Sec­re­tary of the Trea­sury, Steven Mnuchin, to be free to choose who gets the mon­ey and who doesn’t. And to keep his choic­es from the pub­lic for six months. McConnell then tried to weak­en a strong over­sight pro­pos­al. Final­ly, as we saw, both sides com­pro­mised, and the bill was passed with, you know, amaz­ing bipar­ti­san support.

Yet, when the pres­i­dent signed the bill last week, the only peo­ple he had in the Oval Office with him were Repub­li­can mem­bers of Con­gress and the Sec­re­tary of the Trea­sury, all, by the way, white Repub­li­can men. Now, what do you take from that? As a moment of bipar­ti­san tri­umph, the first time in years this hap­pened in Wash­ing­ton, the only peo­ple who get invit­ed to cel­e­brate with the pres­i­dent in the Oval Office are Republicans?

Neil Barof­sky: I think it is a reflec­tion of where we are today as a coun­try. We’re at a moment of such cri­sis. It is a time to come togeth­er. And I know that sounds hack­neyed and it sounds like some­thing in a for­tune cook­ie. But it is true.

It is a moment to come togeth­er, where we come togeth­er as a coun­try and fight this per­ni­cious evil, the virus. 

And that’s not the time you want to sow seeds of divi­sion and reward­ing your friends and pun­ish­ing your ene­mies. This is a time for reach­ing out. And I think it’s gonna poten­tial­ly real­ly ham­string our abil­i­ty to recov­er. But I guess that is what Wash­ing­ton is today. And that’s what—

Bill Moy­ers: Yeah.

Neil Barof­sky: —it’s been for the last cou­ple of years. And you know, I main­tain hope in a lot of dif­fer­ent ways, that pol­i­cy­mak­ers and deci­sion­mak­ers, you know, can look past their bias­es and do what’s right for the Amer­i­can peo­ple. And I main­tain that hope.

Bill Moy­ers: I’m sure you noticed that Con­gress actu­al­ly bor­rowed ideas and even lan­guage con­cern­ing the inspec­tor general’s office from the first bailout bill, to include it in the bailout bill we’re talk­ing about.

The lan­guage about the new inspec­tor gen­er­al is sup­posed to mon­i­tor how the Trea­sury Depart­ment extends loans and loan guar­an­tees to busi­ness­es. And the new leg­is­la­tion requires the new inspec­tor gen­er­al to noti­fy Con­gress imme­di­ate­ly if the White House doesn’t coop­er­ate ful­ly with an audit or inves­ti­ga­tion. That is famil­iar to you, right?

Neil Barof­sky: Very famil­iar. That is, word for word, one of the pro­vi­sions that I relied upon so much at SIGTARP.

And that’s, I mean, the impor­tant thing there is that is not an option. Right? That is an oblig­a­tion. It’s a statu­to­ry direc­tion. And frankly, it is an incred­i­bly impor­tant tool. For me it was an incred­i­bly impor­tant tool. Because, as an inspec­tor gen­er­al, you don’t have any real way to com­pel oth­er parts of the gov­ern­ment to coop­er­ate with you.

If it’s a third par­ty, you can send a sub­poe­na, you could bring them to court, you can get a court order, and you can force them to pro­vide you with infor­ma­tion. But with­in gov­ern­ment, all you have is good faith. You ask for the infor­ma­tion and you hope that they pro­vide it.

And the one rem­e­dy that Con­gress pro­vid­ed me, and pro­vid­ed this new inspec­tor gen­er­al, is the duty, the oblig­a­tion, the require­ment, to let Con­gress know that, Hey, I can’t do my job, I can’t ful­fill these things that you told me I have to do to report on to you and to the Amer­i­can peo­ple, because this area of Trea­sury, or this area of the Fed­er­al Reserve, or this area of the White House, is refus­ing to pro­vide information.”

And it’s a pow­er­ful tool. Because I will say that the mere, I wouldn’t say threat, but when I would advise anoth­er agency that was refus­ing to pro­vide us infor­ma­tion, that I would have no choice but to dis­close this to Con­gress, was pret­ty pow­er­ful in mov­ing peo­ple and get­ting peo­ple to coop­er­ate. Because Con­gress cared. Con­gress was invest­ed. And they could make a pret­ty big deal if they felt like the inspec­tor gen­er­al was being obstruct­ed. And so it’s a key pro­vi­sion to insure com­pli­ance with­in the government.

Bill Moy­ers: So lis­ten to this head­line from The Wash­ing­ton Post, quote: Trump takes imme­di­ate step to try to curb the new inspec­tor general’s autonomy.”

In fact, ear­li­er in the week, when reporters asked Trump about over­sight of the lend­ing pro­grams, the pres­i­dent replied, I’ll be the over­sight.” Then lat­er the White House issued a state­ment say­ing the inspec­tor gen­er­al will be sub­ject to the president’s super­vi­sion. What went through your mind when you heard that?

Neil Barof­sky: I will be the over­sight,” I thought, that was Pres­i­dent Trump’s id tak­ing over. But that’s not how you want it. And that’s not how it works.

It could strip one of the most impor­tant tools that an inspec­tor gen­er­al has in obtain­ing infor­ma­tion. And infor­ma­tion is the cur­ren­cy of suc­cess for over­sight. You can’t have trans­paren­cy if you have an inspec­tor gen­er­al who can’t get information.

And so if, in fact, that state­ment is breathed into life and results in the inspec­tor gen­er­al being shut down from inform­ing Con­gress about nec­es­sary infor­ma­tion, includ­ing obstruc­tion of its efforts to gath­er infor­ma­tion, that could be poten­tial­ly dev­as­tat­ing to oversight.

It remind­ed me that, look, I did work under the over­sight of the pres­i­dent, first Bush, and Obama.

Tech­ni­cal­ly I report­ed to them, although I nev­er had a con­ver­sa­tion with either one. But they had the ulti­mate super­vi­so­ry author­i­ty over me. And that is that they could fire me at will. 

If you were going to be an inspec­tor gen­er­al, and you were going to oper­ate with­in high­ly pub­li­cized, high­ly con­tro­ver­sial, high pro­file pro­grams, every day you have to go to work pre­pared to be fired, if you’re gonna do your job the right way. You just have to take that fear and that real­i­ty and you got­ta put it on a shelf in the morn­ing, and leave it there. And then you could pick it up on your way back home. And you look at your baby, and you look at your apart­ment, and think — then you can wor­ry about it. But dur­ing those hours when you’re in that office, you can’t think about it.

And so this is very chill­ing. And it has a poten­tial of real­ly frus­trat­ing inde­pen­dence. But at the end of the day, a lot of it is gonna depend on this inspec­tor gen­er­al and how they see their oblig­a­tions going forward.

Bill Moy­ers: But at the same time, Neil, the new law gives the Trea­sury Depart­ment broad dis­cre­tion over how to dis­perse these bil­lions upon bil­lions of dol­lars. And the fel­low run­ning Trea­sury, Steven Mnuchin, has been impli­cat­ed in so many scan­dals. I wouldn’t want him in the same room with my kid’s pig­gy bank.

Dur­ing his con­fir­ma­tion he failed to dis­close to the Sen­ate Finance Com­mit­tee near­ly $100 mil­lion in assets. He didn’t tell them about his role as a direc­tor of an invest­ment fund in the Cay­man Islands, where very rich peo­ple send their mon­ey to be laun­dered. He lied to Con­gress about fore­clo­sure mis­con­duct activ­i­ty by a bank he man­aged. He report­ed­ly mis­led Con­gress about a deal the Trea­sury Depart­ment struck with a Russ­ian oli­garch close to Vladimir Putin.

This is the man Pres­i­dent Trump wants to hand out bil­lions of dol­lars to cor­po­ra­tions and to Wall Street, a guy up to his neck in var­i­ous con­flicts of inter­est, self-deal­ing, and ethics laps­es. All you have to do is read David Dayen’s book Chain of Title— to see how he chron­i­cles the way– Mnuchin got fab­u­lous­ly– rich while hun­dreds of thou­sands lost their homes. What does that do to your opti­mism about the poten­tial suc­cess of this bailout?

Neil Barof­sky: Well, I would say David’s book is a fan­tas­tic book. So I agree with you on that. Look I mean, for any chance of this to suc­ceed, right, there just has to be this relent­less trans­paren­cy and over­sight. We need to have over­sight bod­ies — the inspec­tor gen­er­al, the Con­gres­sion­al Over­sight Com­mis­sion, Con­gress itself, has to be on top of these issues, and has to bring transparency.

And, you know, at the end of the day, it is Con­gress that gave this Trea­sury Sec­re­tary the wide dis­cre­tion that he now has. And that was a polit­i­cal deci­sion, a com­pro­mise that was made. And the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of that are going to be felt any time. And it’s not even a crit­i­cism of specif­i­cal­ly of Mnuchin.

Any time you give any indi­vid­ual that much author­i­ty and that much dis­cre­tion, it’s fraught with dan­ger. And here, it is par­tic­u­lar­ly fraught with dan­ger, giv­en all the things we’ve dis­cussed up until now — even putting aside the Trea­sury Secretary’s back­ground, chances are, notwith­stand­ing my opti­mism, that there’s going to be scan­dal involved in this bailout. It is unques­tion­able. There is going to be fraud that is going to be com­mit­ted in this bailout. There are going to be indi­vid­u­als who are unjust­ly reward­ed, and oth­ers who should have been saved and res­cued, who will be left on the side to rot.

Those are all real­i­ties. And so what we’re real­ly talk­ing about is lim­it­ing how much of that occurs. And that’s where trans­paren­cy and over­sight can play such an impor­tant role. And yes, there are real prob­lems with this bill. And yes, there are prob­lems with the sign­ing statement.

But at least there is going to be an inspec­tor gen­er­al and there is gonna be an over­sight com­mis­sion. And we just have to keep our fin­gers crossed and our prayers alight that the right peo­ple get these jobs, that they have the steel in their spine that is gonna be required for them to ful­fill their duties to the Amer­i­can tax­pay­er and we can lim­it some of the inevitable down­sides of any type of inter­ven­tion of the size and scale of this one.

Bill Moy­ers: So what does Con­gress do if the pres­i­dent refus­es to coop­er­ate on the over­sight of these bil­lions of dol­lars. How would you advise Con­gress to under­take strin­gent oversight?

Neil Barof­sky: Well, what Con­gress would need to do is just to esca­late the issue, and make it a very pub­lic issue. I mean, we are in a cam­paign year. And although I know that the trib­al­iza­tion of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics is some­thing that’s very real and we see it every day, but this upcom­ing elec­tion is going to come down to most like­ly a hand­ful of inde­pen­dent vot­ers and a hand­ful states.

And for those vot­ers, the idea that any pres­i­dent or admin­is­tra­tion is stand­ing in the way of pro­vid­ing infor­ma­tion for the pub­lic to under­stand what is going on with hun­dreds of bil­lions of tax­pay­er dol­lars is not a polit­i­cal win­ner for any president.

I think that’s sort of what we’re left with, right, is that con­gres­sion­al over­sight is ulti­mate­ly a form of polit­i­cal compulsion.

There’s no win­ning for­mu­la of pub­licly block­ing infor­ma­tion from an inspec­tor gen­er­al. The real­i­ty is that infor­ma­tion is prob­a­bly going to come to the surface.

Or refusal to pro­vide that infor­ma­tion will sup­ply its own nar­ra­tive. I think that’s what Con­gress needs to do though is to be relent­less about it and be very, very sup­port­ive of the inspec­tor gen­er­al and the need to obtain that information.

And if Con­gress doesn’t do that and doesn’t esca­late the issues, then noth­ing will hap­pen. And that will be on Con­gress. But if the pres­i­dent makes that move, then Con­gress needs to respond in kind and ulti­mate­ly we’re gonna have a judg­ment on this and a bunch of oth­er issues come November.

Bill Moy­ers: Of course the pres­i­dent will nom­i­nate the new inspec­tor gen­er­al. And the Repub­li­can Sen­ate will con­firm or not. It’s an even big­ger job than it was 10 years ago. So I won­der, would you take the job if you were offered it now?

Neil Barof­sky: It’s obvi­ous­ly some­thing that you would think about very strong­ly. You know, my ini­tial reac­tion would be hell no. 

But then I kin­da remem­ber what my reac­tion was the first time I was asked back in 2008. And my first reac­tion was, hell no. 

This is an extra­or­di­nar­i­ly dif­fi­cult job. And it is not right now in its cur­rent for­mat set up to suc­ceed. The bud­get is too small.

There is a lack of hir­ing flex­i­bil­i­ty which is gonna make it almost impos­si­ble to staff up in a very short peri­od of time with the type of qual­i­fied peo­ple that you need to endeav­or on some­thing so sig­nif­i­cant and so large.

There’s ques­tions about whether this inspec­tor gen­er­al is gonna have the type of bipar­ti­san con­gres­sion­al sup­port that I did and that I enjoyed, which made my job pos­si­ble. And I don’t know in this polit­i­cal envi­ron­ment if that’s some­thing that still can exist. Although I deeply hope so. 

Bill Moy­ers: So that we can see what needs to be done, let me ask you, if you did take it, what would be the first things you do to keep this res­cue and stim­u­lus bill fair and honest?

Neil Barof­sky: Well, first thing is you have to have imme­di­ate meet­ings with the pol­i­cy­mak­ers who are push­ing this thing through. And be pre­pared to make a series of rapid rec­om­men­da­tions to bring trans­paren­cy and fair­ness to the process. And in some­thing like this, process real­ly matters.

And I think what this inspec­tor gen­er­al needs to be pre­pared to do is to imme­di­ate­ly get an under­stand­ing of the process and make rec­om­men­da­tions to make it more trans­par­ent and give it the best chance of being a tru­ly fair and objec­tive process, not one that’s dis­tort­ed by pol­i­tics, lob­by­ists or any oth­er out­side influence.

Bill Moy­ers: So how would you achieve transparency?

Neil Barof­sky: It goes back to some­thing that we dis­cussed a lit­tle bit ear­li­er. For pol­i­cy­mak­ers who are going to be mak­ing those types of deci­sions in the future: You may think that those deci­sions are gonna be shield­ed from pub­lic dis­course for now, but soon­er or lat­er these things are going to come to the sur­face. And you’re going to be judged and you’re going to be held account­able for your deci­sions. And if you’re mak­ing deci­sions in the dark­ness you should real­ly think twice about whether or not these are the exact same type of deci­sions that you would be mak­ing when the sun­light is shin­ing on you.

And that’s what’s so impor­tant about these over­sight func­tions is that deter­rent, that reminder that my deci­sions are going to be reviewed. 

I remem­ber one time, Bill, like it was yes­ter­day, I was talk­ing to one of the offi­cials who was run­ning TARP. We were talk­ing about a report I did and he was com­plain­ing to me that my tone was too harsh and why did I have to do it in a cer­tain way. And I said to him — it was, Herb Alli­son was his name — and I said, Herb, you got­ta remem­ber, I’m not in the room with you when you’re mak­ing these deci­sions. I’m not there. The only way I get to give you my voice is through these reports. And so that next time you have these con­ver­sa­tions I’m there.” And I remem­ber Herb turned to me and he said, You don’t think you’re there? You don’t think your voice is heard? Your voice is the loud­est voice in those meet­ings whether you’re phys­i­cal­ly there or not.” 

Bill Moy­ers: You wrote some scathing reports, did you not?

Neil Barof­sky: I would say that we wrote some very accu­rate reports that have been char­ac­ter­ized as scathing. But we did not pull punch­es. We did not sug­ar­coat it. We said what we believed and found to be true, because we thought it was important.

And it’s impor­tant for mem­bers of Con­gress to have seen those reports, and exert their influ­ence and pres­sure to bring more trans­paren­cy. And it was impor­tant for the Amer­i­can peo­ple to know exact­ly what was going on with their money.

Bill Moy­ers: Where did you get the steel in your spine?

Neil Barof­sky: I think, Bill, it’s because I nev­er real­ly want­ed this job. I nev­er — it was not my dream to get some high-pro­file job in Wash­ing­ton. I was a pros­e­cu­tor. I loved that job. It was the only job I ever real­ly want­ed was to be a fed­er­al prosecutor.

It is some­thing I did for eight years. I wasn’t look­ing to change jobs. I wasn’t look­ing to move. 

I wasn’t look­ing for a career in Wash­ing­ton. I always knew that we’d move back to New York as soon as that job was over. And so the worst they ever could do to me is fire me. That was the worst that could hap­pen. If you’re gonna take a job like this, you have to be will­ing to get fired. It just has to be some­thing that’s in your bones because you tru­ly serve at the plea­sure of the president.

And part of your job may be to cause that pres­i­dent great dis­plea­sure. That’s part of the MO. And now I’m not say­ing it makes it easy. But you have to be pre­pared to do that. If you’re going to do what Con­gress has asked you to do and what you take that oath of office, which Hank Paul­son admin­is­tered to me with my hand on his fam­i­ly Bible.

You know, if you’re gonna ful­fill that, you got­ta be will­ing to suf­fer the con­se­quences. And so it weighed on me. It was sig­nif­i­cant to me. But ulti­mate­ly it would’ve weighed on me more if I had vio­lat­ed my oath by putting my own per­son­al job secu­ri­ty over that oath.

Bill Moy­ers: Neil, thank you very much. I’ve enjoyed this con­ver­sa­tion. Best wish­es to you and your family.

Neil Barof­sky: Thank you, Bill. Take care.

Bill Moy­ers: You too.

Neil Barof­sky: Bye.

Bill Moy­ers is the pres­i­dent of the Schu­mann Cen­ter for Media and Democ­ra­cy and the host of Bill Moy­ers Jour­nal on PBS.
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