Scrutiny of Bank of America's Merrill purchase intensifies

Lawmakers blitzed Bank of America chief executive Ken Lewis on Thursday about why he didn't alert shareholders to the deepening troubles behind his deal to buy Merrill Lynch and about whether he tried to pass blame to regulators.

Critics on the House panel said Lewis was trying to play the victim, blaming the government for making him take on a company with mounting losses that he tried to abandon. But Lewis also had supporters on the panel, who tried to cajole him into laying more of the blame on the government.

"There's been a misconception here that the government put a gun to the head of Bank of America, when it's quite possible that it was the Bank of America that put a gun to the head of the Fed by threatening" to back out, said Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat from Ohio.

Lewis said he did nothing wrong. In the end, he said, the decision to go ahead with the acquisition — with the promise of government support — was in everyone's best interest.

Lewis was testifying to the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which is examining how Bank of America's purchase of Merrill morphed from a private transaction into a deal that required $20 billion in government loans.

At the heart of the hearing were broader concerns about the government's deepening and unprecedented forays into the private sector, which have been in overdrive since losses in banks and auto companies accelerated last fall.

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