Back in the wild days of September 2008, the Times reported that A.I.G., or rather the entire economy, had been brought to the edge of the abyss by a terrifying former Drexel Burnham Lambert executive who controlled a “freewheeling little 377-person unit” in A.I.G.’s London wing.
That man, Joseph J. Cassano, has been one of the great international men of mystery since then. There seemed to be just one known shot of the man, which all articles constantly reused and recycled, although a strange photograph of Mr. Cassano at a London subway station was included in Michael Lewis’ Vanity Fair profile. That’s one of two big reasons why his appearance today in front of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission was so extraordinary.
The other is that Mr. Cassano, who until recently was the subject of a criminal investigation, gave a wonderfully proud and unapologetic performance. If he hadn’t been asked to retire from A.I.G. in early 2008, he said, he would have saved the firm—and the country. “I would have gone to the counterparties, and I think even then I would have been able to negotiate substantial discounts by using the rights available to us,” he said, “such that the taxpayer would not have had to accelerate the $40 billion to the counterparties.” And as for those ruinous credit default swaps? “I think there would have been few, if any, realized losses on the CDS contracts had they not been unwound in the bailout,” said his prepared testimony, which he declined to read aloud. “But, as you know, a decision was taken after my departure.”
Bravura aside, just looking at the secretive Mr. Cassano—a world-destroying villain, as Mr. Lewis called him—was reason enough to celebrate. See why here.