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Sen. Charles Grassley wants AIG executives to apologize for the collapse of the insurance giant — but said Tuesday that "obviously" he didn't really mean that they should kill themselves.
The Iowa Republican raised eyebrows with his comments Monday that the executives — under fire for passing out big bonuses even as they were taking a taxpayer bailout — perhaps should "resign or go commit suicide."
But he backtracked Tuesday morning in a conference call with reporters. He said he would like executives of failed businesses to make a more formal public apology, as business leaders have done in Japan.
"What I'm expressing here obviously is not that I want people to commit suicide. That's not my notion," Grassley said Tuesday. "But I do feel very strongly that we have not had statements of apology, statements of remorse, statements of contrition on the part of CEOs of manufacturing companies or banks or financial services or insurance companies that are asking for bailouts."
Grassley's initial comments came during an interview Monday with Cedar Rapids radio station WMT. They went further than remarks he has made in the past about corporate executives and public apologies.
"I suggest, you know, obviously, maybe they ought to be removed," Grassley said Monday. "But I would suggest the first thing that would make me feel a little bit better toward them if they'd follow the Japanese example and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say 'I'm sorry,' and then either do one of two things: resign or go commit suicide.
"And in the case of the Japanese, they usually commit suicide before they make any apology."
Japanese executives often take responsibility for scandals within their companies by issuing public apologies on camera and stepping down. It is rare, however, that business executives have gone so far as to take their lives, though in feudal Japan, ritual suicide was considered an honorable death under the samurai warrior ethic.
Grassley spokesman Casey Mills noted that Grassley had in the past criticized executives who accepted tax money and then spent it on travel and bonuses.
"Senator Grassley has said for some time now that generally speaking, executives who make a mess of their companies should apologize, as Japanese executives do," Mills said Monday. "He says the Japanese might even go so far as to commit suicide but he doesn't want U.S. executives to do that."
The senator's remarks added to a chorus of public outrage over the disclosure that AIG was paying its executives $165 million in bonuses after taking billions in federal bailout money. President Barack Obama on Monday lambasted the insurance giant for "recklessness and greed" and pledged to try to block payment of the bonuses.