Goldman CEO hires criminal defense lawyer

Nathaniel Popper and Walter Hamilton / Los Angeles Times /

LOS ANGELES — Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein has hired a prominent Washington criminal law attorney to defend him against government investigations into the financial crisis.

Blankfein, one of the most prominent and successful figures on Wall Street, retained Reid Weingarten, an attorney known for representing clients in high-profile cases of alleged corporate wrongdoing. He has represented such former executives as WorldCom Inc. CEO Bernard Ebbers and former Tyco International Ltd. general counsel Mark Belnick.

Blankfein is not facing any criminal charges, and is not even known to have spoken with criminal prosecutors. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said the CEO reached out to Weingarten some months ago after the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations wrote a report about the financial crisis that accused Blankfein of lying to Congress — a report that was then handed on to the Department of Justice.

“As is common in such situations, Mr. Blankfein and other individuals who were expected to be interviewed in connection with the Justice Department’s inquiry into certain matters raised in the (Senate subcommittee) report hired counsel at the outset,” a spokesman for Goldman said in a statement.

The decision to bring on a top legal name such as Weingarten suggests how seriously Blankfein is taking the investigation and that there could be a new push to investigate the firm and its executives on criminal grounds. The move to hire an outside attorney was first reported by Reuters.

“He’s got an incredible amount to lose and there’s a lot of anger out there,” said Philip Hilder, a criminal-defense attorney in Houston. “It signifies that the investigations are serious in tone and that he’s not taking them lightly.”

Given the high stakes, Blankfein had to make sure somebody is watching out for his personal interests, experts said.

“I would have been more surprised if he had not retained counsel,” said Terree Bowers, a partner at Arent Fox in Los Angeles.