Treasury Secretary Paulson tries to defend his policy decisions during the crisis:
Struggling to Keep Up as the Crisis Raced On, by Joe Nocera and Edmund Andrews, NY Times: ...It was the weekend of Sept. 13, and the moment Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. had feared for months was finally upon him: Lehman Brothers was hurtling toward bankruptcy — fast.
Knowing that Lehman had billions of dollars in bad investments..., Mr. Paulson had long urged Lehman ... to find a solution for his firm’s problems. ...
But Lehman could not — despite what Mr. Paulson described as personal pleas to other firms... With all options closed, he said, the government’s hands were tied. Although the Federal Reserve had helped bail out Bear Stearns — and was within days of bailing out ... American International Group — it could not help Lehman, even as its default threatened to wreak havoc on financial markets.
“We didn’t have the powers,” Mr. Paulson insisted... By law, he continued, the Federal Reserve could bail out Lehman with a loan only if the bank had enough good assets to serve as collateral, which it did not.
“If someone thinks Hank Paulson could have made the Fed save Lehman Brothers, the answer is, ‘No way,’ ” he said.
But that is not the way that many who have scrutinized his actions see it. Bankers involved say they do not recall Mr. Paulson talking about Lehman’s impaired collateral. And they said that buyers walked away for one reason: because they could not get the same kind of government backing that facilitated the Bear Stearns deal. In retrospect, they added, it was emblematic of the miscalculations by the government in reacting to the crisis. ...
In an hour long interview..., Mr. Paulson defended Treasury’s actions, saying that he and his aides had done everything they could, given the deep-rooted problems of financial excess that had built up over the past decade.
“I could have seen the subprime problem coming earlier,” he acknowledged..., “but I’m not saying I would have done anything differently.”
History will be the final judge. But in contrast with Mr. Paulson’s perspective, other government officials and financial executives suggest that Treasury’s epic rescue efforts have evolved as chaotically as the crisis itself. ... Executives on Wall Street and officials in European financial capitals have criticized Mr. Paulson and Mr. Bernanke for allowing Lehman to fail, an event that sent shock waves through the banking system, turning a financial tremor into a tsunami.
“For the equilibrium of the world financial system, this was a genuine error,” Christine Lagarde, France’s finance minister, said recently. ...
In addition, Mr. Paulson and Mr. Bernanke have been criticized for squandering precious time and political capital with their original $700 billion bailout plan...
[M]any complain the worst of the turmoil might have been avoided if it hadn’t been for Mr. Paulson sticking with an original bailout plan that they viewed as poorly conceived and unworkable. ...
He also defended Treasury’s recapitalization plan against critics who say that he did not extract a high enough price from the banks getting taxpayers’ money. “I could not see the United States doing things like putting in capital on a punitive basis that hurts investors. And we don’t want to run banks.”
Asked what he might have done better, Mr. Paulson replied, “I could have made a better case to the public.”
He added, “I never felt worse than when the House voted no” on the bailout plan Sept. 26, its initial rejection before ultimately passing the plan.
As for Lehman, Mr. Paulson insisted that it was “a symptom and not a cause” of the financial meltdown that took place in recent weeks. The real problem, he contended, is that banks all over the world made wrong-headed loans that have now come back to haunt them. ... Mr. Paulson added, “Ten years from now no one is going to say that this crisis was brought about because Lehman Brothers went down.”
Letting Lehman fail was a mistake, and it made the crisis much worse.