U.S. Financial Crisis Panel Rift Spurs Protest by Republicans

The internal split between Republicans and Democrats on the congressionally appointed commission investigating the 2008 financial crisis is about to break into the open.

Republican members of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission are planning to register a public protest against a decision by the FCIC’s Democratic majority to push back a deadline for reporting its findings.

The move is in part a reaction to a plan that would limit dissenting views to 36 pages in a 500-page book the panel is set to publish next year, three people with knowledge of the protest said.

Bill Thomas, vice chairman of the panel, told reporters in Washington yesterday that he is trying to schedule a news conference for tomorrow, the day the panel was required to issue its final report. While Thomas didn’t give details, the people said the FCIC’s four Republicans are likely to attend and may provide a preview of their own report.

The Republicans are angry that the commission’s six Democrats voted last month to push the delivery of the final report to January, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the plans aren’t public.

“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, and Republican commissioners are prepared to work to meet the deadline,” the four said in a statement when the delay was announced. The change was made to “accommodate the publication” of the book, they said.

Buffett Testimony

Congress created the FCIC to investigate the causes of the financial crisis that toppled Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and prompted U.S. bailouts for companies including American International Group Inc. The commission has taken testimony from executives including billionaire Warren Buffett and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein.

The panel, headed by former California treasurer Phil Angelides, has been beset by internal disputes and staff departures throughout its existence. At least five staff members have left since January, including Matthew Cooper, the former Time magazine White House correspondent who had been hired to help write the book.

While the current fight is over process, the Republicans and Democrats are also debating how to apportion blame for the crisis among banks, regulators and financial companies including mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

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.” Republicans have cited the statute in arguing that the group should deliver a report by that date.

60-Day Extension

Democrats said the law also permitted the panel to use a 60-day period after the deadline for wrapping up its activities including “disseminating the final report.”

FCIC spokesman Tucker Warren declined to comment on the Republicans’ plans. He also declined to discuss the “internal commissioner discussion” on page limits in the book.

The official report delivered to Congress and President Barack Obama and an online version for public consumption won’t have constraints on length, Warren said.

“Regarding alternative views or dissent, should there be any, the commission has ensured that there will be adequate amount of space to do so,” he said.

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