Man Without Qualities

Friday, February 08, 2002

So Soft. So Smooth. So Rubinesque!

After so many years on top, does Bob Rubin today feel a bit like some of it might be slipping away?

It would be understandable. First the New York Times runs that nasty article described below. The Times does try to soften the blow by employing language of the most anodyne variety possible considering the seriousness of the Citigroup malfeasance suggested by the article. No doubt Enron wishes the Times would use more of that kind of language, and less of the breathless, quasi-tabloid variety that has characterized much of the Times’ coverage of Enron matters.

Now New York Magazine runs its own musings about Mr. Rubin’s efforts to stave off a threat by those pesky debt rating agencies that wanted to downgrade Enron’s credit rating to “junk” status. The New York Magazine article includes the following priceless description of Mr. Rubin’s efforts to pressure the rating agencies by the clever tact of squeezing them through his federal government contacts:

"So Bob Rubin did what Bob Rubin does. On his own, without consulting [Citigroup chief] Weill or anyone else, he picked up the phone and made what he thought would be the most discreet of calls to Treasury Undersecretary Peter Fisher. Rubin and Fisher weren't strangers -- Rubin knew him from his Treasury days, when Fisher worked at the New York Fed."

"''Hey, Peter,' Rubin proposed, 'this is probably not such a good idea, but what do you think about putting a call in to the ratings agencies? Maybe they could work with Enron's bankers to see if there might be an alternative to an immediate downgrade.'"

"It was a cheeky proposal: Rubin was asking the federal government to meddle in the private business of the independent ratings agencies, Moody's and Standard and Poor's, on behalf of a company with manifold financial and spiritual links to the current administration. Not to mention the fact that he was a major shareholder and executive of one of the two banks that stood to lose the most if Enron went under. 'Gee, Bob,' Fisher smartly demurred, 'I'm not sure if that's advisable at this point.'"

Gee, Bob, do you think Mr. Fisher was on to something there? And tossing in that calculated "this is probably not such a good idea" just made matters worse.

But then, it’s so hard to resist a long ingrained habit, presumably even for Mr. Rubin.

One must wonder what the sources of the New York Magazine article could be. What to make of that line: "On his own, without consulting [Citigroup chief] Weill or anyone else?" How could the reporter know that? Is the ultra-cagey Weill distancing himself from Mr. Rubin in his hour of greatest need?

Who is Mr. Rubin calling today? Maybe a Senator from New Jersey?

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