Donald Lambro
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WASHINGTON -- The Securities and Exchange Commission has a lot riding on its charges of fraud against Goldman Sachs to redeem its dismal record of policing the financial industry.

But last week the evidence in the SEC's case not only looked thin but was fueling suspicions about the timing of the SEC action just as President Obama's get-tough financial regulatory bill was moving to the Senate. This dog-eared case has been kicking around in the SEC since last year and then, just when the bill appeared to be in trouble, the civil suit was filed, handing the White House a needed weapon to bolster its arguments for a massive regulatory crackdown.

Presidential press secretary Robert Gibbs was fielding questions last week in his daily press briefing about the political timing of the suit, reminding reporters that the SEC is an independent agency that by law is beyond political influence. Obama said the White House had nothing to do with the suit. Still, the SEC's last-minute decision at a crucial juncture in the legislative battle appeared to be more than just a coincidence. Why the weekend before the Senate was about to take up the bill?

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Meantime, the network-news shows raised few if any questions about its timing, or about the merits of the case itself, as one financial analyst after another indicted, convicted and sentenced Goldman Sachs. NBC dropped all pretense of balance.

But in the days that followed, other analysts took a sharper and increasingly skeptical look at the case laid out in the SEC's 22-page complaint and found it wanting in many respects.

Here's how Washington Post financial writers Steven Mufson and Tomoeh Murakami Tse led their story early last week:

"One former hedge fund manager said that when he read the headline about Goldman Sachs being charged with fraud he thought, 'It's about time.' But when he read the details of the case, he said he thought, 'That's it?'"

The venerable Wall Street banker, at the center of controversy in the packaging and selling of subprime mortgage securities, has a lot of critics. But many more investment firms were selling these securities when the market still believed the housing boom had a longer way to go, while others bet against them in complicated derivatives used to spread the risk on whether their value rose or fell.

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Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.