AIG CEO: 'I'm sorry' for lynching comparison

October 11, 2013: 2:28 PM ET
robert benmosche aig
AIG CEO Robert Benmosche issued an apology Friday for comments comparing criticism of his company to lynchings in the South.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

AIG CEO Robert Benmosche finally apologized for saying the uproar over the insurer's bonuses in the wake of the financial crisis was "just as bad" as lynchings during the battle over civil rights.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published last month, Benmosche said the criticism "was intended to stir public anger, to get everybody out there with their pitch forks and their hangman nooses, and all that - sort of like what we did in the Deep South [decades ago]. And I think it was just as bad and just as wrong."

On Friday, Benmosche said he met with Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, to apologize for his reference to the South and the impact that it had on him and others.

Cummings, ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, wrote an op-ed piece for CNNMoney in the days following Benmosche's initial comments in which he said he "literally could not believe" the CEO had uttered those words.

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"As the son of sharecroppers who experienced lynchings in their communities, I found it unbelievably appalling that Mr. Benmosche equated the violent repression of African Americans with congressional efforts to prevent the waste of taxpayer dollars," Cummings wrote.

In a statement, Benmosche said that he explained his comments to Cummings on Friday.

Related: AIG CEO: Criticisms of bonuses 'just as bad' as lynchings

"The vilification of a person or a group of people is not right. It's never right, and when it happens it should not be trivialized or dismissed lightly, as it too often was in the context of AIG," Benmosche said. "And when I referred to the South, I unintentionally trivialized a horrible legacy of our country. That was the opposite of my intent."

Cummings said in a statement that he appreciated Benmosche coming to Washington D.C. to meet with him and that he accepted his apology.

"The American taxpayers rescued AIG and saved the financial system threatened by AIG's reckless actions, and obviously any comparison of lynchings with efforts to protect taxpayer funds is offensive and misguided. I take Mr. Benmosche's actions today as recognition of these facts," he said.

AIG's initial statement on Benmosche's comments said that he used a poor choice of words and never meant to offend anyone.

Benmosche's gripes date back to March 2009, when it was revealed that AIG had paid out $165 million in bonus payments to its various executives, including 73 getting more than $1 million each, sparking a backlash in Washington.

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AIG continued to receive criticism about its pay practices throughout the four years that Treasury held shares in the company. The federal watchdog who oversaw the various bailouts issued a report in January that said AIG was one firm that continued to have "excessive" executive compensation.

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