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Opinion: Columnists

'Omerta' keeps public in dark on auto bailout

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President Obama never tires of claiming credit for saving Detroit's auto industry with his $80 billion bailout in 2009, especially when he's on the campaign trail in electoral battleground states like Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

But when a congressional committee summons three of the men Obama appointed to his Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry to design and carry out that bailout, they suddenly come down with a terminal case of lockjaw, so tight that it brings to mind the Mafia's code of silence, the Omerta.

The three include former United Auto Workers negotiator Ron Bloom, Matthew Feldman, former task force legal adviser, and Harry Wilson, former task force member.

They were hailed before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform's Subcommittee on TARP, Financial Services and Bailouts of Public and Private Programs. Why? Because the task force trio refused for a year to cooperate with a congressionally mandated investigation by Christy Romero, the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Since Romero's team lacks subpoena power, she asked the subcommittee, which can compel people to testify under oath, to remind Bloom and his two buddies of that fact.

Romero and Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, among many others, want to know what role the task force played in persuading the new General Motors -- the one created by the Obama bailout -- to follow through on the old GM's promise to "top up" the pension and health benefits of more than 30,000 hourly workers at former parts supplier Delphi, but not those of an estimated 20,000 salaried employees.

The hourly workers were members of the United Auto Workers, whereas the salaried employees weren't. The latter lost as much as 70 percent of the benefits they were promised.

Romero, Turner and the Delphi Salaried Retirees Association believe the task force played a key role in persuading GM to take care of the UAW members while leaving the nonunion guys high and dry.

On Tuesday, Turner got a shot at Bloom, Feldman and Wilson. He asked Bloom a series of questions that Bloom had told the same subcommittee last year he would answer in writing.

When Turner asked him why those written answers were never provided, Bloom -- who exhibited a marked aversion to looking his inquisitors in the eye -- said he figured it wasn't necessary since he left the task force shortly thereafter. The credibility of his responses to Turner's queries went downhill from there.

Say this for Bloom: He's a world-class equivocator, a master of avoidance and an unsurpassed double-talker. And if none of those tactics works, he's always got the "geez, Congressman, I just don't remember that" handy.

Things became a bit dramatic when Turner confronted Feldman with an email in which Feldman was described as saying he was convinced that GM would "rubber stamp" the Obama administration's wishes on the Delphi deal. Feldman looked absolutely panicked when Turner read him a second email in which he was said to have discussed the Delphi deal with White House officials.

Incredibly, both men insisted -- despite the facts known by everybody in the hearing room -- that their task force's role was nothing more than being a value-free "facilitator" of decisions made entirely by others.

It's about as credible as the Mafia don who claims he's just an honest businessman trying to make a living. Everybody knows it's a sham, and sooner or later the guy goes to the slammer.

It's highly unlikely that Bloom, Feldman or Wilson will ever face jail time for failing to give straight answers to Delphi questions. But there are 20,000 former Delphi employees who would probably rejoice to see them behind bars.

Mark Tapscott is executive editor of The Washington Examiner.

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