Dick Kovacevich was furious. John Mack didn’t say much

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This morning the Times and the Journal each have a great tick-tock of what happened on Monday afternoon when Hank Paulson called a meeting with the CEOs of nine of the nation’s biggest banks and said they were about to be recapitalized. Both accounts are riveting, and I’ve pasted some snippets below—though there does seem to be a discrepancy over whether the participants were drinking coffee and water (the Journal) or coffee and Coke (the Times).

From the Journal:

On one side of the table sat Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, flanked by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila Bair.

On the other side sat the nation’s top bank executives, who had flown in from around the country, lined up in alphabetical order by bank, with Bank of America Corp. at one end of the table and Wells Fargo & Co. at another…

It struck some of those in the room as fortunate that Citigroup Inc. and Wells Fargo are so far apart in the alphabet. The two firms just last week were locked in a bitter battle over control of banking giant Wachovia Corp., a fight Wells Fargo eventually won… With the firms sitting alphabetically, at least the heads of the two rivals, Mr. Kovacevich and Citigroup Chief Executive Vikram Pandit, wouldn’t have to sit next to each other…

Mr. Paulson said the public had lost confidence in the banking system. “The system needs more money, and all of you will be better off if there’s more capital in the system,” Mr. Paulson told the bankers…

Mr. Bernanke said the situation was the worst the country had endured since the Great Depression. He said action was for the collective good, an understated appeal. The room was silent as he described the economy’s fragile condition…

The CEOs shot off questions, peppering officials for details about how the share purchases would be structured and how it might constrain them. At one tense moment, Mr. Bernanke jumped in to calm nerves. The meeting didn’t need to be confrontational, he said, describing paralysis in the market and the threat that posed to everyone in the room.

And from the Times:

The executives did not have an inkling of Mr. Paulson’s plans. Some speculated that he would brief them about the government’s latest bailout program, or perhaps sound them out about a voluntary initiative. No one expected him to present his plan as an ultimatum…

Mr. Kovacevich of Wells Fargo objected that his bank, based in San Francisco, had avoided the mortgage-related woes of its Wall Street rivals. He said the investment could come at the expense of his shareholders…

Kenneth D. Lewis, the chairman of Bank of America, also pushed back, saying his bank had just raised $10 billion on its own. Later, Mr. Lewis urged his colleagues not to quibble with the plan’s restrictions on executive compensation for the top executives… If we let executive compensation block this, “we are out of our minds,” he said, according to a person briefed on the meeting…

As they heard more of the details, some of the bankers began to realize how attractive the program was for them… Even as they insisted that they did not need the money, bankers recognized that the extra capital could be helpful if the economy became shakier.

As the meeting wound down, participants said, the bankers focused more on contacting their boards before signing the agreement with the Treasury Department. With time running short and private space limited, some of the bankers left the Treasury building, heading for their limousines while speaking urgently into cellphones.

“I don’t think we need to be talking about this a whole lot more,” Mr. Lewis said, according to a person briefed on the meeting. “We all know that we are going to sign.”

Barbara!

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