FCIC Delays Probe Report Amid Republican Opposition

Democrats on the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, the panel assigned to probe the worst U.S. economic collapse since the Great Depression, voted to delay the group’s final report on its findings amid Republican opposition.

The report will be available in January, rather than Dec. 15 as previously scheduled, FCIC Chairman Phil Angelides wrote in letters sent yesterday to President Barack Obama and members of Congress. The panel will conclude its operations on Feb. 13 as required by law, Angelides wrote.

“The additional time will allow the commission to produce and disseminate a report which best serves the public interest and more fully informs the president, the Congress and the American people,” wrote Angelides, a Democrat who formerly served as California’s treasurer.

Three Republicans on the 10-member FCIC voted against the delay and issued a statement yesterday that said it was imposed so the panel can issue a “book-length” version of the report at the same time it’s released to lawmakers.

Congress created the FCIC to investigate the causes of the 2008 financial crisis, which triggered the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and led to U.S. bailouts for companies such as American International Group Inc. The panel, which has heard testimony from executives including billionaire Warren Buffett and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein, has been beset by partisan disputes and staff departures throughout its 15-month existence.

‘Waste of Money’

“This has been a waste of money from the get-go,” said Lynn Turner, a former chief accountant at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Turner said he doubts the report “will really go out and nail anyone to the wall, so it likely doesn’t matter if it doesn’t come out until after hell has frozen over.”

Peter Wallison, a Republican FCIC member, has indicated he may issue a dissenting report with the backing of other Republicans, said two people briefed on his plans who declined to be identified before findings are released. Wallison, a former Treasury Department general counsel, didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.

FCIC spokesman Tucker Warren said he didn’t know whether Republicans would oppose the commission’s final report.

“Commission members continue to discuss and debate,” Warren said. “Until the commission’s work has concluded, we won’t know how the work will shake out.”

Republican Statement

The FCIC’s six Democratic members, including Angelides, all voted to postpone the report’s release. Republicans, including FCIC Vice Chairman Bill Thomas, dissented. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a Republican who didn’t participate in the vote, joined his colleagues in a statement criticizing the delay.

“We believe a report containing the findings and conclusions of the FCIC on the causes of the financial crisis can be delivered by the statutory delivery date,” the statement said. “Republican commissioners are prepared to work to meet the deadline set forth in the statute.”

At least five members of the FCIC staff have left since January, including Matthew Cooper, the former Time magazine White House correspondent who had been hired to help write a book about the panel’s probe.

The FCIC has also changed publishers for the book version of its report. After initially reaching a deal with Hachette Book Group’s Little, Brown, the commission now plans to use PublicAffairs Books.

$8 Million Budget

Neither Cooper’s departure nor the change in publishing companies affected the timing of the report, Warren said.

Legislation approving the FCIC’s formation gave the panel an $8 million budget and said the commission “shall” submit a report to the president and Congress containing its findings on “December 15, 2010.”

The text of the legislation also said the panel may use a 60-day period after the Dec. 15 deadline for activities including “disseminating the final report.”

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