It may or may not have been illegal. But Geithner, chief of the New York Fed at the time, certainly gave the big banks a decided advantage in the market by leaking to them a planned cut in a key interest rate by the Federal Reserve.
In the summer of 2007, as storm clouds gathered over the world's financial system, then-New York Federal Reserve President Timothy Geithner allegedly informed the Bank of America and other banks about the possibility the U.S. central bank would lower one of its critical interest rates, according to a senior Fed official.
Jeffrey Lacker, the head of the Richmond Fed, originally raised the allegation during a Fed conference call in August 2007, and he stuck to his 5-year-old claim against the current U.S. treasury secretary in a statement provided to Reuters on Friday.
"From conversations I had prior to the video conference call on August 16, 2007, I was aware of discussions among a few large banks about borrowing from their discount windows to support the asset backed commercial paper market," Lacker said in the statement. "My understanding was that (New York Fed) President Geithner had discussed a reduction in the discount rate with these banks in connection with these initiatives."
According to transcripts of the call released by the Fed on Friday, Geithner at the time denied that banks knew the Fed was considering cutting the discount rate. The Fed regularly releases transcripts of its policy meetings with a five-year lag.
"We don't have any comment beyond the transcript," said Treasury spokesman Anthony Coley. The Treasury declined to make Geithner available to comment.
Information about any planned interest rate move by the Fed is among the most sensitive as it can have a huge impact on a range of financial markets worldwide. That was particularly the case in the summer of 2007 when there were growing concerns about financial stability as a crisis that would reach fever pitch just more than a year later began to build.
If Geithner won't talk to the press, maybe he'll talk to Congress. The government oversight committee should hold hearings on this, if for no other reason than to ascertain the facts.
What might be an equally interesting question is: Did the Obama transition team know of this when they were vetting Geithner for Treasury Secretary? Stay tuned.