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Sam Bankman-Fried in NYT Interview: 'I've Had a Bad Month'

New York Times Events | YouTube

The notorious SBF, a.k.a. disgraced FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried, was arguably the main attraction at Wednesday's much anticipated DealBook Summit hosted by the New York Times in Manhattan, even rivaling the Left's go-to show-stoppers like Ukraine's forever-war President Volodymyr ZelenskyThe fee to attend the conference for hobnobbers in the tech and political news industries was an expensive $2,499, but the spectacle of Bankman-Fried squirming under scrutiny was priceless.

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Since the dethroned billionaire, who was the second-largest contributor to Democrat-affiliated political action committees (PACs) and organizations during the 2022 midterm campaigns, suffered an Icarus-like fall from grace, the public has seen little of Bankman-Fried. The live Q&A marks the first time Bankman-Fried has shown his face post-scandal for a public interview, although it was a virtual appearance from the Bahamas, where the now-bankrupt cryptocurrency exchange is headquartered.

Here are the main takeaways from Bankman-Fried's hour-long interview since FTX filed for bankruptcy:

'Buying Influence'

Bankman-Fried denied he was attempting to "buy influence" with generous grants to media powerhouses before FTX's nosedive.

"You also made big investments in a number of media companies and I think that's raised a lot of questions about whether you were trying to buy influence. Can you speak to that?" questioned New York Times Times columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin.

Bankman-Fried replied: "I mean, I think media matters a lot and I want to support good media ventures. That was the whole thesis there. And, you know, I don't have like governance over any of these. I wasn't looking for governance over them."

"I was looking to support journalists doing great work because I think what they do is really important, and I think there needs to be a critical eye on stories," he declared. "Frankly, I think it's healthy for the world that there is real investigative journalism."

The former darling of the mainstream media had made big-dollar donations to a handful of news organizations through the Bankman-Fried family's "philanthropic" foundation, Building a Stronger Future, including ProPublica, Vox, and The Intercept.

ProPublica was awarded an eye-popping $5 million grant to report on "pandemic preparedness" and "any future outbreaks, but the non-profit received only the first tranche of three payments before the remaining annual disbursements were placed on hold.

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Vox's Future Perfect program was gifted a grant from Building a Stronger Future for a 2023 reporting project "on technological and innovation bottlenecks that hamper human progress," but the left-wing news site's project is now on pause, as of Nov. 16.

The Intercept has received just $500,000 of the multi-million dollar grant promised by Building a Stronger Future to finance the non-profit news outlet's "bio-risk, pandemic prevention, and lab-bio safety" coverage. In a leaked letter to staff members, The Intercept's editor-in-chief Roger Hodge admitted that there's a "significant hole" in the company's budget. Another $250,000 was due in December with $3.25 million to follow over the next two years. "As of right now," all further payments are on hold.

'Committing Fraud'

Bankman-Fried insisted he's not to blame for the downfall of FTX and never attempted to commit fraud.

Sorkin noted that some believe Bankman-Fried is just "a young man who made a series of terrible, terrible very, very bad decisions," while many others are accusing Bankman-Fried of having carred out "a Ponzi scheme, manipulation of the system."

"Clearly, I made a lot of mistakes or things I would give anything to be able to do over again. I didn't ever try to commit fraud on anyone," Bankman-Fried responded, noting he was "shocked by what happened" and wishes he had done things "differently."

Later on in the conversation, Sorkin asked: "How concerned are you about criminal liability at this point?"

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"So, I don't think that—I mean, obviously—I don't personally think that I have, you know, but I think the real answer is it's not," Bankman-Fried answered. "Sounds weird to say but, but I think the real answer is that's not what I'm focusing on. There's going to be time and a place for me to sort of think about myself in my own future, but I don't think this is like, right now," he deflected.

That's when Bankman-Fried said: "I mean, like, I've had a bad month. This is not, like, that's not what matters."

What does matter, Bankman-Fried pivoted, is the millions of customers and all the stakeholders in FTX who got hurt. "I'm trying to do everything I can to help them out and as long as that's the case," Bankman-Fried stressed. "Like, I don't think that, you know, what happens to me is the important part of that. And I don't think that's what it makes sense for me to be focusing on."

Sources told Retuers that Bankman-Fried moved a whopping $10 billion of FTX's customer funds to its sister trading house Alameda Research, which is run by the crypto whiz kid's rumored ex-lover Caroline Ellison. At least $1 billion and up to $2 billion in client funds have since vanished and were not accounted for among Alameda's assets, Reuters reportedIn text messages to Reuters, Bankman-Fried asserted that he "disagreed with the characterization" of the "secret" $10 billion transfer, dismissing it as "confusing internal labeling" that was "misread." When questioned about the missing funds, Bankman-Fried responded: "???"

“I didn't knowingly commingle funds..." Bankman-Fried repeated to Sorkin. "I wasn't trying to commingle funds."

FTX's legal and finance teams also learned that Bankman-Fried implemented a so-called "backdoor" in FTX's book-keeping system, per Reuters. According to the report, the escape hatch, which he denied over text, allowed Bankman-Fried to execute commands that could alter the crypto giant's financial records without alerting others, including external auditors, which meant that the alleged movement of $10 billion in funds to Alameda did not trigger internal compliance or accounting red flags at FTX.

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Sorry, I Guess

Aside from Bankman-Fried's thinly veiled woe-is-me schtick, he did make over a dozen of concessions and apologies. Crypto news site CoinTelegraph counted at least 12 times that Bankman-Fried apologized during the sit-down video interview.

Towards the beginning, Sorkin read off a letter written by an FTX customer who lost $2 million in life savings after FTX collapsed:

"The subject line is 'Sam Bankman-Fried stole $2 million from me.' It says, 'Andrew, can you please ask SBF why he decided to steal my life savings and the $10 billion from his customers to give to his hedge fund Alameda. Can you ask him why his hedge fund was leveraging long? All of these S-coins? I'm gonna keep it polite for the kids. Please ask him if he thinks what happened was fraud.' These are the kinds of letters that I've been getting repeatedly over the past several days. What do you tell this man?"

"Yeah, I mean, I'm deeply sorry about what happened," said Bankman-Fried in response to the customer's story.

Sorkin also alluded to reports of Bankman-Fried living in a "polycule," a network of polyamorous relationships among multiple non-monogamous lovers, at a luxury penthouse in the Bahmas with 10 or so former co-workers. According to CoinDesk's bombshell report, Bankman-Fried's former paramour Ellison was part of the "cabal of roommates" that dated each other.

"When you read the stories, it sounds like a bunch of kids who are on Adderall having a sleepover party," Sorkin said.

"I mean, like, look, I screwed up. I was the CEO of FTX. And I mean I say this again and again, that that means I had a responsibility that means that I was responsible ultimately for doing the right things and I mean, we didn't. Like, We messed up big," Bankman-Fried vaguely acknowledged, not specifically confirming or denying the Adderall use and group sleepovers.

(A bit after Sorkin's inquiry, Bankman-Fried said the "parties" were sober and consisted of dinners, board games, and quarter-full beers, which were consumed by "20 percent" of the attendees. As for drug usage: "I've been prescribed various things at various times to help with focus and concentration...I haven't felt any of the sort of impacts that people have been theorizing," he said.)

But, he played off FTX's failure as poor oversight on his part, a risk management issue, and nothing more.

At times, the stoic, stiff, and fidgeting Bankman-Fried struggled to find his footing and stumbled in his stuttering responses, often taking the occasional sip from a can of La Croix sparkling water, which he once spilled on his basic black T-shirt.

Viewers analyzed Bankman-Fried's "telling" body language from his inability to make eye contact when answering certain questions to slumped shoulders. There were "lots of duping delight," analysts determined, and "obviously coached answers."

Self-Incrimination?

Why would the fallen crypto kingpin speak out publicly while under federal investigation and against legal advice?

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Bankman-Fried, who's facing potential prison time, maintained it's because he has "a duty to explain what happened" and "do everything" he can to try "do what's right," even though what he said can and very likely will be used against him in court.

Sorkin had asked what Bankman-Fried's lawyers are advising and if they're in agreement that it's a good idea for him to break his silence right now. "They're very much not," Bankman-Fried said of his attorneys. "I mean, you know what? It was the classic advice, right? Don't say anything. You know, recede into a hole." Bankman-Fried told Sorkin that he decided "it's not who I want to be...I don't see what good is accomplished by me sitting locked in a room pretending the outside world doesn't exist."

"I was as truthful as I'm knowledgeable to be," Bankman-Fried said to Sorkin, referring to their wide-ranging discussion.

While the New York Times interviewer seemed to confront Bankman-Fried on a fair assortment of challenges, some feel that the questions were not "tough" enough, nor was there adequate follow-up to some of the grilling. Twitter poll launched by a crypto trader found that a number of members in the crypto community believe Sorkin "soft-balled" the interview with Bankman-Fried.

Legal experts reviewing the SBF-NYT interview assess that that some of Bankman-Fried's statements could be used to incriminate him in legal proceedings. Crypto attorney Jeremy Hogan, partner at Hogan & Hogan, wrote on Twitter that the New York Times reporter's "light cross-examination" of Bankman-Fried has returned "at least 3 incriminating statements so far."

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Securities lawyer Alan Rosca said it was "pretty astonishing that he's in effect testifying...Hard to think of a precedent for this."

Bankman-Fried's testimony via video conference comes off more like PR damage control than any admission of guilt. Many suspect Bankman-Fried won't be behind bars anytime soon and speculate that he'll be off the hook with Hunter Biden-esque immunity, given that he's bankrolled the committees of key congressional lawmakers involved in the pending U.S. probes.

This election cycle, Bankman-Fried's deep-pocketed "philanthropy" was runner-up to liberal mega-donor George Soros, funneling a monstrous $38 million to left-wing entities that financed the successful campaigns of Democrat candidates elected to Congress.


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