For someone who wants to change Washington, John McCain has surrounded himself with plenty of guys who game the system. His campaign in recent weeks had to boot out a bunch of lobbyists, though his two top campaign aides—Rick Davis and Charles Black—remain in their posts, despite the fact they recently were high-powered lobbyists. Then there’s Phil Gramm, a campaign cochairman and economic adviser to McCain. After leaving the US Senate, he became an executive and lobbyist for UBS, the Swiss mega-bank. And as I noted recently, eight years ago, when he chaired the Senate banking committee, he helped create the current subprime meltdown by slyly slipping into a must-pass appropriations measure a bill that completely deregulated certain financial instruments. Isn’t that the sort of person you want advising a president and in line to be Treasury secretary?
Gramm is back in the news today. The New York Times reports that federal authorities are investigating UBS to determine whether the bank helped thousands of wealthy Americans hide their assets from the IRS in UBS offshore accounts. Without mentioning that Gramm is a top McCain ally, the paper notes:
The case could turn into an embarrassment for Marcel Rohner, the chief executive of UBS and the former head of its private bank, as well as for Phil Gramm, the former Republican senator from Texas who is now the vice chairman of UBS Securities, the Swiss bank’s investment banking arm. It also comes at a difficult time for UBS, which is reeling from $37 billion in bad investments, many of them linked to risky American mortgages.
So it’s not too early to ask, What did Phil Gramm know about UBS’ offshore practices, and when did he know it? And reporters ought to ask McCain if he has asked Gramm about this investigation. Another query: how long can Gramm remain on McCain’s campaign?