Cuomo Mishandles Anger Over AIG

New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has done a first-rate job as the state’s chief law enforcement official. With good reason, political insiders believe Mr. Cuomo could be an attractive candidate for governor next year. He has been out front, early and often, on issues ranging from student-loan scams to the financial services meltdown.

That said, his campaign against bonuses paid to executives at American International Group has gone too far, and may prove to be counterproductive. Indications are that the attorney general himself understands this. Published reports assert that Mr. Cuomo has been agonizing over the publicity storm he unleashed when he subpoenaed AIG for a list of those who received bonuses. While the names have not been made public, some AIG employees have received death threats, and all have been tarred as virtual criminals for accepting money that was owed them by contractual agreement.

Mr. Cuomo’s subpoena led to the revelation that shook Washington last week—that AIG paid out $165 million in bonuses after receiving an astonishing $180 billion in federal bailout money. The uproar led the House of Representatives to pass a measure of questionable constitutionality that would impose a 90 percent tax on those bonuses.

Our political leaders seem determined to out-tough each other in dealing with those held responsible for today’s economic chaos. But in their rush to regulate compensation, outlaw corporate junkets and otherwise shame business leaders, politicians may be hurting companies that received federal assistance packages.

In such times, fear is not the only emotion we need to keep in check. Mr. Cuomo and other political leaders should be wary of anger as well. Those death threats made to AIG employees remind us that word and actions have consequences. Who, then, will be held responsible if needless exposure leads to senseless tragedy?