I see that AIG executives have returned $50 million of the $165 million in bonus money awarded last week. A "handful" of executives at the company have resigned. But New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who has managed to rise higher than most of the populist tide, suggests that this is enough company participation for his office not to release the executives' names. And the Senate, which was about to consider its version of a punitive tax on bonuses, has now postponed action until April. It will instead consider a national service bill. The switch seems like a charming metaphor for something.

But the Washington Post write-up of this round of the AIG saga has a detail I haven't seen elsewhere:

Several AIG executives said that Cuomo was aware of the retention payments last fall.
"They showed it to Cuomo," said one executive, who was not authorized to speak on the record. "Cuomo was aware this thing was signed up."

Cuomo's office did not respond to a request to comment yesterday on when he became aware of the payments.

If this is true, it contradicts what Cuomo has said in his letter to Barney Frank and his letter to AIG CEO Edward Liddy -- namely, that he learned of the bonuses last weekend. Beyond the anonymous quote above, I have no particular reason to doubt that story, except that AIG opened its retention plans to a Cuomo inquiry in October. It doesn't seem to be that case that AIG failed to cooperate, and I don't know why information about retention payments to the financial products unit wouldn't have been included along with all the other information about AIG's compensation plan.

But, more broadly, I think it goes to show that some portion of the populist rage among elected officials and the general public is mostly random. This isn't something unique to Andrew Cuomo, but Cuomo seems to be a real connoisseur. Information about AIG bonuses was lying around in news stories, SEC reports and op-eds from members of Congress. Why did it take so long to get upset?

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