Senate Leaders Trade Charges of Improper Relations With Wall Street

As the debate over how to reshape federal oversight of the nation's largest banks heats up, the top Senate leaders in both political parties are trading attacks, charging each other with being in bed with Wall Street executives.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has accused Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, of holding "backroom negotiations" with financial executives in New York earlier this month when they held a private meeting to discuss the impact of the financial overhaul bill.

Republicans have returned fire at Reid for holding a recent fundraiser in New York City that was set up by Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn, a longtime Democrat.

Goldman Sachs is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for fraud for allegedly packaging risky mortgages for sale to investors and then buying insurance against their default.

The back and forth comes as Senate Democrats and Republicans bicker over a financial overhaul bill that would set up a mechanism for unwinding large banks that fail, create a consumer protection agency and limit how companies use complex financial products called derivatives, the product that Goldman Sachs was selling.

Democrats need to peel off at least one Republican to avoid a GOP filibuster for a debate that is expected to start next week.

The issues that divide both sides are the creation of a consumer protection agency that Republicans say is a waste of government money and a $50 billion fund to help unwind the failed banks.

Republicans say the bill is a bailout for Wall Street banks by giving them a taxpayer-funded safety net.

Democrats say Republicans are doing the banks' bidding by opposing the bill.

But the attacks between Reid and McConnell appear to be getting nastier than the legislative debate.

A spokesman for Reid on Wednesday decried what he calls false attacks from McConnell, saying Americans are still waiting for him to come clean about his "secret, back-room meeting with Wall Street.

"It's now been 13 days since Sens. McConnell and Cornyn held a secret, closed-door meeting with two dozen elite Wall Street lobbyists and executives, but they still refuse to tell the American people basic information, like who attended and what was discussed," Reid spokesman Jim Manley said in a written statement.

"For instance, did Sen. McConnell use this meeting with Wall Street executives and lobbyists to devise the false rhetoric he's been using to try and water down bipartisan efforts to hold Wall Street accountable for their reckless gambling that led to 8 million Americans losing their jobs?" he said.

"We know that the Republican leader is taking his cue from big bank lobbyists to kill reform at all costs, but he should stop misleading the public, and while he's at it, come clean about any secret deals he cut to let Wall Street off the hook," he added.

Republicans have pointed out that Goldman Sachs donated $33,400 to Reid's political action committee in the first three months of this year.

Goldman is also one of the most liberal-Democratic leaning financial houses on Wall Street. During the presidential election, Goldman executives gave four times more money to Obama than they gave to his Republican challenger, John McCain.

"If Harry Reid believes there's something wrong with meeting with business executives in New York City, then he should immediately explain to his Nevada constituents why he was scooping up campaign cash from Goldman Sachs just a few days ago at a backroom Manhattan fundraiser," NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh said. "One can only presume that Sen. Reid will be returning these donations immediately along with the more than $1.1 million he's taken from Wall Street over the years. And if not, he should explain why not."

Reid spokesman Manley said Reid did nothing wrong.

"In the end, the American people can judge by the actions of both parties," he said. Sen. Reid is leading the effort to hold Wall Street accountable and end too big to fail, while Republicans are leading the effort to keep in place the same rules that almost crippled our economy."

One GOP senator told Fox News Tuesday that both sides, particularly Reid and McConnell, "are just acting silly."

"All of this back and forth is just not necessary, and it only makes American's more unhappy with the way we do business here," the Republican senator said. "And it really makes it harder for us to find a compromise.

The senator asked not to be identified in order to offer a candid assessment of the political attacks between the parties.

Fox News' Trish Turner contributed to this report.