Ron Bloom, the top White House auto bailout official who has flatly denied accusations that he once said his work on the bailouts was "all for the unions," now admits that he might, in fact, have said those words. Just a few weeks ago, in sworn testimony before the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, Bloom said denied four times that he said "I did this all for the unions" at a July 2009 party attended by most of the bailout team. But in a new letter to committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, Bloom writes that he does not recall making the comment, but "given the amount of time that has passed since the dinner in July 2009 and the fact that others may have a different recollection, I cannot say with absolute certainty that I did not make the alleged comment."
Here is the background: 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 at the gathering. "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.'"
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…
Both accounts, by two people remembering the event separately, quoted Bloom as saying he worked on the bailouts "for the unions." Both said that Bloom was joking. As far as Bloom's actual intent is concerned, readers can judge for themselves whether it was the kind of joke that is also true.
Fast forward to June 22, 2011. 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.
After Bloom's testimony, Republican members wanted to know: Did he say it, not say it, or did he say it and it was a joke? Bloom said he didn't say it. But ABC News reported that a White House source referred reporters to Rattner's book, adding that Rattner "clearly writes that Bloom made the comment as a joke."
"Bloom is denying having said it in the first place, but the White House is saying it's just a joke," a Hill source said at the time. "Well, you can't have it both ways."
Seeking clarification, on July 6 Issa wrote 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."
And now, in response, Bloom has sent a letter to Issa:
You asked if I would like to clarify my testimony about whether I made a certain statement at a dinner two years earlier in July 2009. After reviewing your letter and with the benefit of the transcript passage that you quote, I have reviewed carefully the questions asked and my responses, as well as my best recollection of the event in question. I do not recall making the alleged comment that was the subject of Congressman Burton's inquiry. Nonetheless, given the amount of time that has passed since the dinner in July 2009 and the fact that others may have a different recollection, I cannot say with absolute certainty that I did not make the alleged comment. In light of that uncertainty and in order to make sure the hearing record is as precise as possible, I would ask that this letter be made part of the official record so that my testimony will reflect that I do not recall making the alleged comment.
Bloom concluded by praising the work of the bailout team and telling Issa, "I can assure you that the comment attributed to me is not reflective of my view."