Investigators for the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform are asking the White House official who oversaw the government bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler whether he told the truth in recent testimony before the committee. Ron Bloom, Assistant to the President for Manufacturing Policy, is quoted in a 2009 newspaper account and a 2010 book saying of the auto bailouts that he "did this all for the unions." But when Bloom appeared before the committee on June 22, he flatly denied ever saying those words. Other White House officials have reportedly defended Bloom by suggesting that he did indeed say those words but was joking. And that has led committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa to ask what is going on.
On November 24, 2009, Detroit News reporter David Shepardson wrote about a dinner held at Washington's Rosa Mexicano restaurant in July of that year, after GM had come out of bankruptcy. Both Bloom and Steven Rattner, the Wall Street figure who played a key role in the bailouts, spoke to the group. "Rattner praised the team's intensity and focus and said the group was among the best he had ever worked with," Shepardson reported. "Bloom, the former adviser to the United Steelworkers, joked that he 'did this all for the unions.'" (The article is not available on the paper's website, but here is a copy of it on a United Auto Workers site.)
In September 2010, Rattner published a book entitled Overhaul: An Insider's Account of the Obama Administration's Emergency Rescue of the Auto Industry. He also described the dinner at Rosa Mexicano:
Such celebrations, I reminded my colleagues, are standard on Wall Street at the successful close of a deal. But in those victories, the objective is private gain. This victory was different. I choked up as I spoke about our commitment to quality. "I've worked with a lot of talented people in my life but never with a group smarter or more dedicated than Team Auto," I said. And I thanked my colleagues for the enormous sacrifices that each had made. "In this deal, in this incarnation," I said, "you have epitomized what it means to serve your country."
Fortunately, after I spoke, Ron Bloom was there to lighten the mood. "I did this all for the unions," he jokingly declared. Everyone laughed and the war stories began to fly…
The only difference between the two accounts is that Rattner says Bloom made the statement "jokingly." Readers can judge for themselves whether it was the kind of joke that is also true. But in any event, Rattner says Bloom was joking.
Fast forward to June 22. During Bloom's appearance before the Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, Republican Rep. Dan Burton asked Bloom about the dinner:
Rep. Burton: Well, did you say this at a dinner? There was a dinner and it was reported by David Shepardson, Washington correspondent for the Detroit News. At a farewell dinner of the Auto Task Force held in the restaurant Rosa Mexicano in late July 2009 that you allegedly said "I did this all for the unions."
Mr. Bloom: No I did not say that.
Rep. Burton: You didn't say that?
Mr. Bloom: No sir.
Rep. Burton: So, you were misquoted?
Mr. Bloom: That's correct.
Rep. Burton: Well, I'm going to call that guy up and ask him if you said that. You know that you are under oath here?
Mr. Bloom: I'm fully aware.
Rep. Burton: You made no comment like that at all?
Mr. Bloom: No sir.
So now the question is: Did Bloom say it, not say it, or did he say it and it was a joke? Bloom says he didn't say it. But ABC News reports that a White House source is referring reporters to Rattner's book, adding that Rattner "clearly writes that Bloom made the comment as a joke."
That has Republicans on Capitol Hill confused. "Bloom is denying having said it in the first place, but the White House is saying it's just a joke," says a Hill source. "Well, you can't have it both ways."
Now Issa has written a letter to Bloom, giving him "an opportunity to clarify" his testimony to the committee. "Despite your five denials, two independent sources documented you saying these words," Issa wrote. "It appears that either a respected reporter and your former boss in the Obama administration have both given inaccurate accounts of your comments to the public, or your testimony was not completely truthful. Therefore, if you would like to amend or clarify your testimony for the record, we encourage you to do so as soon as possible."
Hill sources are not making any threats; they say simply that they are going to wait for Bloom's response and then see what comes next. But there's no doubt that want to know what was really said at that dinner celebrating the auto bailouts.