As a young US federal attorney and prosecutor, Neil Barofsky had sent crooked financiers to jail and brought Columbia drug dealers to justice. When overreaching and greedy bankers almost brought the American economy down a dozen years ago, President George W. Bush tapped Neil Barofsky to be the chief inspector general for the $750 billion bailout. He was its top cop, with a mandate to flush out waste, fraud and abuse.
He would soon be recognized “as one of the most impressive political officials in Washington.” This week Bill Moyers asked him to recollect his experience, and he had some interesting things to say about the “world capital”:
Bill Moyers: You wrote in your book Bailout that you found yourself in a duplicitous world. In what sense was it duplicitous?
Neil Barofsky: I think one of the interesting things of Washington for someone who had not previously been there was the comfort and frequency with which people lie to one another. It is not something that I had experienced. And I had spent eight years as a prosecutor prosecuting fraud cases and narcotics cases.
And the lies were almost like a currency in Washington. People would lie to you, and, I mean, people within the government would lie to you. And you would know they were lying. And they would know that you knew they were lying.
And they would lie nonetheless, as this is just the normal way people communicate with each other. And I guess it was a somewhat — I mean, I would hate to describe myself as being naïve. Because, you know, I’d spent eight years in the trenches with some truly horrific human beings, and fraudsters who committed billions of dollars of fraud.
But I’d not seen anything like it, where just the presumption level of dishonesty, that really permeated the town. And so it took me a little bit to realize it, and to realize that government officials who were presidentially appointed, and you ask them for information, and they give you information, where they tell you something, and they’re not telling you the truth.
And you almost have to, at least include in your calculus the possibility that somebody’s lying to you all the time. And it was early on when I think I suddenly realized it, when I was told that Elizabeth Warren, who as I mentioned before, was running another oversight agency.
It was before she was a senator, of course, the congressional oversight panel. I was told about all the terrible things that she was saying about me. And at first I was taken aback. And then I realized that there’s no way that could possibly be true. It made absolutely no sense. And I called Elizabeth.
And we started collaborating together. But it was a light-bulb moment when I realized that there’s just nothing people won’t say if they think they can gain advantage from it. And it’s a very strange way to operate when you’re not used to it.
That’s the modus operandi of the new left, right there. Lie for advantage. Convince others of a fantasy world, to achieve your goals. Fake news is a natural progression, as lying becomes more widespread and accepted:
Bill Moyers: Have you seen any evidence that Washington has changed in the last 10 years for the better?
Neil Barofsky: The currency of dishonesty has gotten, if anything, has gotten worse. I think that this whole concept of fake news, and having everyone being entitled to their own set of facts is not something that we experienced.
I mean, ultimately if we were lied to, and could prove that something was a lie, it was generally accepted that okay, this is the truth. And this is a lie. In this environment, people are caught lying, and they just insist they’re telling the truth. And one media outlet or another will confirm that something that’s demonstrably untrue is, in fact, the truth.
And everyone goes into their different tribes and their different areas. And they just battle. And you know, as a lawyer and someone who spent some period of their career in the Department of Justice, which was always about the pursuit of truth, and then at my time at SIGTARP when I tried to do the exact same thing, it’s — that level of abandonment of the concept of the truth is different.
It is different. They lied then. They lied now. That hasn’t changed. But the way those lies are perceived, and how people have their alternate realities, I think that’s very different, and very scary as we go into this next crisis.
The scale of lying associated with political correctness is qualitatively different to the lying that went on before, because now even the concept of truth has been abandoned. I think I preferred the old ways, where people believed in truth and generally knew when they were lying.