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The art of the announcement: Cuomo's charges against Obama's 'car czar'

Steven Rattner had barely gotten off of CNBC, where the hosts praised him for his help in engineering an overhaul of General Motors on the morning of the company's IPO, when New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced he was suing the private-equity manager and former so-called car czar for $26 million and seeking to ban him from the securities industry for life. So much for basking in the glory of the moment.

The announcement couldn't have been a surprise to Rattner. It came the same day he settled similar charges by the SEC for using favors to win investments from New York's pension fund, agreeing to a two-year ban from Wall Street and to pay $6.2 million. Cuomo's office issued new subpoenas to him earlier this week, and settlement discussions have been under negotiation for months, after several years of investigations.

Spokesmen for Cuomo's office say the timing of the announcement--which just happened to fall on the same day as Rattner's crowning achievement--was purely coincidental. But aides for Rattner, who settled the SEC's suit without admitting wrongdoing and who plans to fight Cuomo's lawsuits, called the timing a sign that Cuomo "puts politics and his own media coverage ahead of the public interest."

The debate shines a spotlight on a tricky tightrope leaders face. What's the best way for leaders to bring attention to their moves without making themselves appear too self-interested?

The timing of Cuomo's announcement will certainly draw more awareness to the charges against Rattner. And indeed, the allegations against him are serious. Cuomo may, despite claims of coincidence, have decided it was in the public's best interest to be reminded of charges at a time when Rattner was already in the news, both for his work with GM and the SEC settlement. Or the governor-elect may have wanted to ensure that action was taken on the lengthy investigation into the pension-fund issues before he passes on his responsibilities in January to the next attorney general.

And yet, it is hard for any observer not to see the announcement as at least partly an effort to gain publicity for Cuomo's office. The charges have to do with actions taken before Rattner joined the Obama administration, when he was with Quadrangle Group, a private-equity firm he co-founded that gained investment business from New York's pension fund, allegedly due to kickbacks. To choose the exact day of the GM initial public offering gives Cuomo an unrivaled news peg, one that practically guarantees the Rattner lawsuit will remain top news for longer than usual.

If the allegations against the former "car czar" are true, it is important that the public be aware of them. But no matter what Rattner may have done, Cuomo risks being seen as an opportunist in choosing such an uncanny day to announce the lawsuit. If his evidence is strong and the case important, that's all he should need to get attention.

By Jena McGregor

 |  November 19, 2010; 10:46 AM ET |  Category:  Bad leadership , Corporate leadership , Decision-making , Leadership advice Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Just another of Obama's Criminal buddies appointed to screw over the American people.

Posted by: JCM-51 | November 20, 2010 3:34 PM

I agree with CSELBY1, a crook is a crook is a crook and I don't care who puts out the charges, nor when. This government is overrun with crooks. Bring them all DOWN (and preferable OUT of the government) especially these CZARS. We know not what they do, we know not how much they are paid, we know only that taxpayers are carrying them.
AND GM is nothing to crow about. Still owes the taxpayers 50+ billion is what I'm hearing.

Posted by: ReneesOpinion | November 19, 2010 3:29 PM

The one thing missing in this announcement was the amount of money they estimate Rattner profited by his illegal acts. The $26 million sought and the amount he just agreed to with the SEC are substantial sums but they may be peanuts in comparison to the total haul the guy made. For once I would love to see a full accounting of the facts of a story.

Posted by: Desertdiva1 | November 19, 2010 1:15 PM

I don't there's any bad time to bring corruption charges - and the more publicity, the better for the taxpayers, who are constantly being screwed by people like Rattner.

Little Stevie got a PR boo-boo?? GO CRY ME A RIVER! He should be in prison like all the other government hacks who use their access, and taxpayer money, to feather their own nest. Screw 'em!

Posted by: cselby1 | November 19, 2010 12:10 PM

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