Robert Benmosche, the CEO of the AIG, issued a statement Friday following his meeting with Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummings, apologizing once again for comments he made in a Wall Street Journal interview where he said massive criticism of AIG employees's bonuses following the company's $182 billion bailout in 2008 and 2009 "was intended to stir public anger, to get everybody out there with their pitch forks and their hangman nooses, and all that — sort of like what we did in the Deep South [decades ago]…And I think it was just as bad and just as wrong."
Benmosche said Friday that he had "expressed my belief that people should never encourage public anger against any group" and that "when I referred to the South, I unintentionally trivialized a horrible legacy of our country. That was the opposite of my intent."
After the initial interview was published, Cummings, who helped lead a congressional investigation into the AIG bonuses, called on Benmosche to resign, saying, "I find it unbelievably appalling that Mr. Benmosche equates the violent repression of the African American people with congressional efforts to prevent the waste of taxpayer dollars." He also sad Benmosche "has demonstrated a fundamental inability to lead this modern global company in a responsible manner—a company that exists today only because it was rescued by the American taxpayers—and that he should resign his position as CEO immediately."
Benmosche apologized for the comparison on Tuesday, September 24, the day after the Wall Street Journal published the quote, saying, "It was a poor choice of words. I never meant to offend anyone by it."
Cummings also said issued a statement following the meeting Friday afternoon, saying "any comparison of lynchings with efforts to protect taxpayer funds is offensive and misguided" but "I appreciate and accept his sincere apology to me and to the taxpayers of this country."
Despite the apologies, Benmosche's anger with public officials over criticizing AIG employees who received bonuses following its massive bailout is unabated. After Benmosche took over in August, 2009, he told a group of employees in Houston that Andrew Cuomo, who first disclosed the bonuses when he was New York Attorney General, "doesn't deserve to be in government, and he surely shouldn't be the attorney general of the state of New York. What he did is criminal. You don't create lynch mobs to go out to people's homes and do the things he did."
In his statement today, Benmosche stood by the substance of his comments, saying, "What stood out to me was the enormous fear AIG employees felt about their safety and the safety of their families because people in positions of public responsibility were actively encouraging the vilification of our people," in a not-so-veiled reference to Cuomo. He also said that the anger against AIG employees had been "trivialized or dismissed lightly."
Matthew Zeitlin is a business reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Zeitlin reports on Wall Street and big banks.
Contact Matthew Zeitlin at email@example.com.
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