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Fareed Zakaria GPS
Israeli Ground Forces Fighting Inside Gaza; Interview with Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian; Netanyahu Faces Domestic Scrutiny for Handling of Hamas; Biden's Strong Backing of Israel; The Wild Rise and Swift Fall of Sam Bankman-Fried. Aired 10- 11a ET
Aired October 29, 2023 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN ANCHOR: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Bianna Golodryga filling in for Fareed Zakaria today and we are coming live from New York.
Today on the program, I have an interview with Iran's foreign minister who warned this week that if the attacks in Gaza continue, America will not be spared. I asked him where Iran's threats stands now, how close the Middle East may be to a much wider war, and what Iran's role was in Hamas' October 7th attack.
And how are the Israeli people feeling as the country launches its second stage of war. I'll ask top Israeli anchor Yonit Levi.
Then for one brief shining moment, Sam Bankman-Fried was a crypto mega billionaire, on the subject of a ton of buzz, but then it all collapsed. This week he took the stand in his federal fraud trial. The great writer Michael Lewis was by Bankman's side to witness his rise and fall, and tells Fareed the fascinating tale.
Yesterday, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the war on Hamas his nation's second independence war and warned that it would be long. Meanwhile, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross has called the humanitarian situation in Gaza a, quote, "catastrophic failing that the world must not tolerate."
CNN's Sara Sidner joins me live now from Tel Aviv with the very latest.
So, Sara, what more are you learning about this expanded operation into Gaza?
SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Look, we heard from the prime minister as you mentioned there. And he really sort of frame this as an existential threat to the survival of Israel, and has said that the next phase of the war is happening. What you're seeing is not a huge ground invasion but a small one. You are seeing soldiers are in Gaza, Israeli soldiers in Gaza as we speak.
We have also seen the volley of airstrikes that have been going on there in Gaza with devastating effect. We have also seen plenty of rockets that have come over. They come over daily, really. Tel Aviv is not used to getting this number of rockets or rockets at all. It is more rare here than it is along the border in places like Ashkelon and Ashdod and Sderot. But now it has become a regular occurrence that rockets continue to fly over Tel Aviv here.
The thing that Israel has of course is the Iron Dome that knocks those out. But we have -- really, we've been seeing just an enormous amount of fire power inside of Gaza and on the perimeter as there is tank fire. We are hearing from our reporters there as well that there is small arms fire that has been going off over the past 24 hours, and of course those airstrikes which is causing certainly a devastation there in Gaza, and a lot of death including a lot of civilians, men and women and children and babies.
But here in Israel there is also a big call by those who have hostages still in Gaza. They are demanding to have some answers, to know exactly whether or not this new phase of the war is going to put their loved ones there in danger. They met with the prime minister and defense minister Yolav Gallant and, you know, really demanded that their hostages, that their family members be put as a priority.
And they were promised that they were a priority to the Israeli government. But since then, you know, we have seen so many strikes. There was just a lot of fear on the part of those with family members that are in Gaza in those tunnels that they just will not be able to make it out alive if this continues the way it does before a negotiation is able to get them out -- Bianna.
GOLODRYGA: Yes. We just heard Jake Sullivan tell our Jake Tapper that the release of those hostages remains a top priority for U.S. officials as well.
Sara, let me ask you about the situation in Gaza specifically. Do we know if any additional humanitarian aid has been able to get in?
SIDNER: It's just -- it's such a minuscule amount. I mean, normally you have somewhere near 100 trucks coming in each day, and that's on a regular day. That is on -- before any war is going on, they've only been able to get a few dozen trucks there over a week's time. And so you are really seeing this just enormous humanitarian catastrophe, not just from the munitions being used on Gaza by Israel, but also because of the blockade, also not being able to get in the aid.
So there is not enough food, there is not enough water. It is really a situation where the civilians are suffering greatly and it gets worse by the day -- Bianna.
GOLODRYGA: You've been covering it all for us for the past few weeks. Sara Sidner, thank you.
Well, on Thursday night U.S. officials announced that American F-16s had struck weapons and ammunitions storage areas in Syria. These facilities the government said were used by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and affiliated groups. Now the strikes were a response to a series of attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria from Iran's proxies since the war began.
Earlier that day Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian seemed to threaten the U.S. in a speech at the U.N., saying that America, quote, "wouldn't be spared from the fire if the war in Gaza continued."
I sat down with him on Thursday afternoon to ask him about that threat but I began the interview with what began this war in the first place, the October 7th Hamas attack.
GOLODRYGA: Mr. Foreign Minister, thank you for taking the time. Let me start by asking you. Did Iran play any role, direct or indirect, in the October 7th Hamas attack on Israel?
HOSSEIN AMIR-ABDOLLAHIAN, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): You know, what happened on 7th of October in the occupied territories of Palestine, it was a decision that was made by the Palestinians alone. And since the country was occupied, they thought that it was a natural right to defend their own territories. To carry out the operation. That was a total Palestinian operation and decision.
GOLODRYGA: Well, "The New York Times" and the "Wall Street Journal" say their sources from both Hamas and the IRGC tell them that Iran was directly connected to the attack.
AMIR-ABDOLLAHIAN (through translator): I think this is totally baseless claim and allegation. Naturally we do support Palestine, we always have political, media and international support for Palestine. We have never denied this. This is the truth. But in relation to this operation called the Al Aqsa Storm, and there was no connection to -- between Iran and this Hamas operation. Not my government, no part of my country know what they did.
Considering the international law, they did it in defending the occupied territories and they want to retake their territories, and to liberate Palestine from occupation and to free it. We believe that according to the international law, they did it in defending themselves.
GOLODRYGA: Mr. Foreign Minister, you know what happened at that attack. Babies, the elderly, women, children were murdered. They were tortured. That was part of the mission. How can you justify that as being legal under international law? No one else has.
AMIR-ABDOLLAHIAN (through translator): First of all, from the 8th of October up to now, in a vengeful operation the Israeli regime is continuously day and night targeting non-military areas both in Gaza and the West Bank. Bombarding them. Even using fast response several times. More than 7,000 women, children and civilians have been killed.
GOLODRYGA: I do want to go back to the brutality in this attack perpetrated by Hamas because it horrified the world. And yet your office, the day after, said this, quote, "The resistance has so far achieved brilliant victories during this operation. And this is a bright spot in the history of the Palestinian people's struggle against the Zionists."
You yourself called the attack a historic victory. How on earth can you call the butchering of innocent civilians a bright spot?
AMIR-ABDOLLAHIAN (through translator): Let me ask you a question. Has Israel occupied Palestine or the other way around? The Palestinians occupying Israel. Which one is the occupier? In response to occupation, 75 years of humiliation.
GOLODRYGA: But you know Israel has not been in Gaza for many years. Hamas has controlled Gaza.
AMIR-ABDOLLAHIAN (through translator): In a large number of territories belonging to Palestinians, Israel has been there for years. They are demolishing the houses of the Palestinians and they are expanding upon their settlements. They have killed thousands of Palestinians, made them homeless. This is continuous genocide and the crime is going on. What happened was a natural response to about 75 years of crimes, genocide, and occupation.
GOLODRYGA: We could go back and talk about 75 years but I'm talking to you specifically about this attack which precipitated the war that we have now seen.
AMIR-ABDOLLAHIAN (through translator): I'm asking you specifically, for the prevalent and extensive attacks against Gaza and killing 7,000 women and children, why are you not seeing both sides? The occupying side. Yes, you know, we don't approve of the killing of the civilians.
GOLODRYGA: So you condemn it?
AMIR-ABDOLLAHIAN (through translator): I have met with the leader of Hamas in Qatar. I asked him, he explained to me why they did what they did. He said that we wanted to retake our occupied territories. They explained to me that. In the past month, Netanyahu was involved in very radical, extremist actions and also desecrated the Al Aqsa Mosque, and even disrespected the Christians. And also Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
For 16 years Gaza is a small area, is under total human blockade. When you treat a nation like this, they believe it is their right to defend their motherland. You see, I would like to emphasize we are opposed to the killing, killing of the civilians. The political leader of Hamas told me that we stand ready to battle the military Israelis for a long time. But the civilians should be left out.
GOLODRYGA: Next on GPS, I asked the Iranian foreign minister about his perceived threat to the United States where he said at the U.N. that America wouldn't be spared if the war continues. We'll be back in a moment.
GOLODRYGA: As the war rages on in Gaza, U.S. officials are now warning of a growing likelihood of escalation in the wider region. Israel is trading heavy fire with Hezbollah militants on its Lebanese border, and American forces are now responding to drone attacks from militant groups in Iraq and Syria. These groups are part of what Iran calls the axis of resistance.
I asked Iran's Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian about his country's role in the Middle East and the prospects of a larger war.
GOLODRYGA: I want to talk about your time in New York because you spoke at the U.N., and I want to quote what you said for our viewers. You said, "I say frankly to the American statesman, we do not welcome expansion of the war in the region, but I warn, if genocide in Gaza continues, they will not be spared from this fire."
Is that a threat? Is Iran prepared really to go to war against the United States?
AMIR-ABDOLLAHIAN (through translator): We don't want this war to spread out.
GOLODRYGA: But with all due respect, your actions don't seem to match your words. You say that you are playing a constructive role in helping peace and security, but according to the Pentagon, groups affiliated with Iran have targeted U.S. forces or bases in the region at least 15 times now since October 17th, injuring at least 20 U.S. military personnel, a U.S. carrier strike group shot down 15 drones, four cruise missiles fired by Iran-backed Houthi militants in Yemen that was aimed towards Israel. President Biden said this yesterday. He said --
AMIR-ABDOLLAHIAN (through translator): Any attack that is carried out in the region and if the U.S. interests are targeted by any group, you know, linking it to the Republic of Iran without offering any piece of proof is totally wrong. You see, two weeks ago I was in Iraq, also in Syria and Lebanon, I could see up close and personal that the people of the region, they are very sensitive about the developments in the Palestine. They are angry.
They are not receiving orders from us. They act according to their own interests. Also, what happened, what was carried the out by Hamas, it was totally Palestinian. They decided to take responsibility for that.
GOLODRYGA: You keep saying that, and yet you continue to weigh in on this issue.
That's what I don't understand. Iran wasn't attacked, Iran wasn't a party to this current crisis. So why are you involved?
AMIR-ABDOLLAHIAN (through translator): We are not involved. Why is the U.S. so involved? We are in a region.
GOLODRYGA: Well, the U.S. is protecting an ally that was attacked and provoked.
AMIR-ABDOLLAHIAN (through translator): We are living there. But the U.S. is not. From thousands of kilometers, it is away. They are interfering in all aspects of our region. You should ask the U.S. government, what are you doing in Iraq? Has the Syrian government invited you to have your military bases there? Ask them. What are you doing behind Netanyahu in a war that -- in which 7,000 Palestinian women and children have been killed?
We do care about national security in our region. But there are groups in the region and they do things and they're responsible for their actions.
GOLODRYGA: Your regional neighbors have moved on, the U.S. has brokered normalization between Israel and multiple Arab nations at this point, Muslim countries. The Biden White House is in the process of brokering normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia when the Hamas attack took place. Why does the prospect of that normalization frighten Iran so much?
AMIR-ABDOLLAHIAN (through translator): You see, those countries that have normalized ties with the Israeli regime, what they did was think perfunctory, not substantive. On the 7th of October, in the afternoon, the countries in which Israel has embassies, it is what happened to their embassies by the people in those countries. You know, this is the source of evil. You see Israel, it is just a source of insecurity.
They have assassinated our nuclear scientists in our streets. They don't care about the security of the region. They just want to foment insecurity because Israel exists and its longevity is tied to insecurity. Today, if the war in Gaza is ended, there is no doubt that in less than 24 hours this government will fall, the Netanyahu government.
GOLODRYGA: That's what happens in a democracy.
GOLODRYGA: Up next on GPS, how the war is playing out among the Israeli public. I'll speak to one of the country's most prominent TV anchors, Yonit Levi. That's next.
GOLODRYGA: I wanted to get a sense of the sentiment on the ground in Israel just three weeks and a day after the Hamas attack, and very early in the second stage of war which Netanyahu promised would be long and difficult. So I asked Yonit Levi to join me. She is one of Israel's most recognizable people, a top anchor who joins us from her news channel N12.
Yonit, thank you so much for taking the time in your busy schedule to join us today. As we noted, we are now two days into what Prime Minister Netanyahu described as the next phase of this operation. He says that he has the full backing of the government going into this stage. How are the Israeli people feeling about it now?
YONIT LEVI, ANCHOR, CHANNEL 12 NEWS ISRAEL: Well, I mean, Bianna, as you mentioned, it's been three weeks and a day. The ground incursion, the IDF's ground incursion into Gaza has started, and this is a very complicated thing to achieve. First, because there are 230 hostages, Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza. The Red Cross hasn't seen them. Their families don't know their condition.
So the Israeli government wants and thinks that this is a tactic to pressure Hamas into somehow a deal to release these hostages, and of course the bigger goal or the biggest goal by the Israeli government set is to topple Hamas and to dismantle its abilities to do this again. I think it's important to say Israelis are still very much in this. They are reeling from the worst terror attack that they have ever suffered.
Every day more and more information is coming out. You know, I've just spoken to sources telling me that there are still 100 Israeli bodies that haven't been identified. Just so you let that sink in for a minute on what that means what has been done to these people before death or after. I mean, this is where we are. We are -- the whole public is, you know, watching this very, very closely. They're concerned about the hostages and also about what the next steps of this war will look like.
GOLODRYGA: And it comes as there's continued criticism of Prime Minister Netanyahu. Not just in how he's handling the aftermath of the October 7th attack, not to mention that he's taken some heat for blaming his intel officials which he's then had to retract and apologize for in the last few hours but there is frustration in how he's handling the hostage situation as well.
So, given all of that, is there faith that his government can orchestrate this next phase of the operation in the weeks and months ahead successfully?
LEVI: Well, look, I mean, ideally this situation would be where everyone would work together and that there would be solidarity and unity among everyone. I think we've seen that particularly in the Israeli society over the past three weeks. We need to mention that this, of course, that this war that has been forced upon us happened when Israeli society was already very divided over the judicial overhaul, the protests we've seen this over the last couple of months.
So, on the one hand, you have the people reminding Netanyahu that he was warned by his security officials, by the defense establishment, that our enemies might see this as a moment to strike Israel because of what they perceive as weakness. He, on the other hand, and his supporters, by the way in a tweet he has since then retracted and say, I did not have a specific alert to what Hamas intended to do on October 7th.
All of this, Bianna, just a prelude to what we will see when this war is over. The arguments or the questions, who knew what, what kind of policy vis-a-vis Hamas was the prominent policy by the government. But again, I think that many in Israel kind of feel that this is the moment to try, if this -- we're able to do that, try and come together because the external threat is bigger than anything else that is happening right now.
GOLODRYGA: You know, Yonit, in the hours and days following the horrific October 7th attack, I know that Israelis were very moved by the compassion and support that was provided by the U.S. president, President Biden. He made a trip to the region as well and to meet with leadership there. And I know his popularity soared.
I'm just wondering if there is concern now given the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding in Gaza and the continued pressure from other countries for a cease-fire or a halt in operations, if there is a concern that perhaps some of that would be appear to be unconditional support from the U.S. may fade at some point?
LEVI: Well, first of all, I must tell you that, I mean, the support, I think no one is more highly supportive as a world leader more than President Biden who came here and showed not only all of the empathy, but all of the support that the United States could muster in. And Israeli felt like he got us. He understood how devastating this massacre was and how Israelis feel.
It is not only, by the way, the support of aircraft carriers or anything like that. There are military experts and generals helping Israel with the guidance of how do you fight this kind of war against terror in a densely populated area. There are many experienced American generals in Fallujah or Mosul, places like that.
So, I think, that there is -- there might be some sort of difference between how patient the Biden administration is and how patient the rest of the world is to what we are seeing in Gaza. I think that what Israelis feel, from the Israeli point of view, again, the world has moved on quite quickly from showing very, very brief empathy to what we are still going through to in many cases even blaming Israel for what has happened.
And I think that many Israelis feel like their case isn't clear enough, maybe hasn't been clear enough for years. But how do you wage this war against a terror organization that is so cynical that it starts by murdering your own children and then hides under their population not at all caring if they are hurt?
So, it is a very difficult thing to maneuver. And I think that Israelis on one hand do feel like the stopwatch has begun to run its course. Israel always has a very short window but are also kind of angry, by the fact, that there is a stopwatch to begin with because they feel like they have been through something that should never happen again. And, of course, anyone who knows anything about Jewish history knows that those words never again have -- are imbued with a lot of meaning and tragedy.
GOLODRYGA: Well, Yonit Levi, you know, sometimes we forget that journalists are humans as well and you have been working 24/7 over the past three weeks. So, I want to thank you for all of your hard work. And I hope you've been taking care of yourself as well. I've been following you and your coverage and it has been phenomenal throughout all of this. Thank you so much for your insight and for joining us today.
LEVI: Thank you, Bianna.
GOLODRYGA: Well up next on GPS, Fareed will be back. He has a fascinating interview with the author Michael Lewis. Lewis has a new book out about Sam Bankman-Fried, the once crypto billionaire who took the stand in his own defense in a federal fraud trial.
We'll be back in just a moment.
GOLODRYGA: This week, Sam Bankman-Fried took the stand at his criminal trial in lower Manhattan. The Department of Justice accuses him of orchestrating one of the biggest financial frauds in recent American history. The 31-year-old founder of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX has pleaded not guilty to seven charges.
So, what should we make of Bankman-Fried's precipitous rise and dramatic fall from Wall Street trader to billionaire entrepreneur, to bankrupt and disgraced CEO? Fareed interviewed Michael Lewis, the author of the new book on the crypto titan, "Going Infinite: The Rise and Fall of a New Tycoon."
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: Michael, welcome back to the show.
MICHAEL LEWIS, AUTHOR, "GOING INFINITE": Pleasure to be here, Fareed.
ZAKARIA: Let me ask you something to begin with. After doing all of this, did you figure out what is cryptocurrency?
And why does it exist?
LEWIS: Well, so, this is a very good question. To start with, what is curious about the story is you don't really need to know. And he didn't need to know. Like he saw it -- cryptocurrency is in the eye of the beholder.
ZAKARIA: Yes. And he almost says that in that -- in that "Bloomberg" interview.
LEWIS: Yes. And what he sees when he first walks in is an inefficient market and it almost doesn't matter if it is cryptocurrency or tulip bulbs. It is priced one way, one place and one way another place and you can just arbitrage it. He didn't care about it.
So, the answer to your question, before I started this book, I used to kind of kick around crypto and think, is there a story here? And it always struck me -- two things always struck me. One it always felt like a solution in search of a problem.
ZAKARIA: Exactly. That's always been my --
LEWIS: The first response -- the first pitch it was it was going to replace the dollar. And it is not going to replace the dollar. It is not going to -- it's not a better means of exchange. The second pitch was it was like an uncorrelated asset. It didn't move around with everything else but it -- unfortunately it moves around with everything else.
And a year and a half ago the market for cryptocurrency -- the market value of crypto was $3 trillion. And so, for me, you asked me like, what is interesting to you about crypto? What drew you in to write about it? It was the social consequences of that. It was not the crypto itself. It was, what happens when you out of nowhere create $3 trillion of wealth and distribute it unequally and some people have all of a sudden appear out of nowhere and have huge sums of money?
ZAKARIA: So, let's get to Sam Bankman-Fried. Do you think his interest was fundamentally the same as yours, that, oh, my God, there is this exploding market, what is going on? Because a lot of the other guys, I mean, certainly Steve Jobs and Bill Gates they are fundamentally interested in the technology.
ZAKARIA: It seems to me Sam Bankman-Fried was fundamentally interested in the money.
LEWIS: Oh, he was fundamentally interested -- fundamentally not interested in the technology. His interest is is the interest of a Wall Street trader. He's working at Jane Street, who is, you know, the high frequency trading firm that is setting prices in markets for assets. And he is introducing radical efficiency in say the market for stocks. And in these trades he's doing, it is pennies that they're making on the trades. The margins are, you know, fractions of a percent.
And he looked at this other market. There's all of a sudden a $3 trillion market. And you can buy a bitcoin for $800 in the United States and sell it for a thousand dollars in Japan at the same time risklessly. You don't see this in ordinary financial markets. So, his interest was that.
I'm going to port Jane Street thinking and high-frequency trading thinking into crypto and be the first to do it. And that was it. The technology didn't interest him at all.
ZAKARIA: What do you think fundamentally explains his success? Because a lot of the people you've written about they have succeeded and you've often been able to figure out kind of what was the genius behind it.
ZAKARIA: What is the genius here?
LEWIS: It was partly the brazenness of being willing to jump into a market that was shady, rickety, unpredictable, and apply these tools. I think it is a couple of things. One, he built this business on an oil field.
I mean, when you -- he -- essentially FTX was the casino. And in the way it made money was it just took a little slice out of every transaction and in a boomer market the transactions are booming and so the slices -- the sum of those slices gets to be a pretty big number. I mean, a year after he starts it, he's generating a billion dollars in revenues a year, and $400 million in profits. And -- but the question is like, why people came to his exchange? And he had --
ZAKARIA: Because there were others?
LEWIS: There were probably dozens of others. His was the first that was really designed for the institutional trader, for the Jane Streets and Jump Trading and Goldman Sachs of the world. They are used to trading on professional exchanges with professional technology and he had a sense of what that was because he'd come out of that world and he's the first to build an exchange that actually suited them.
And so, they come -- they follow him into the market and they want places to trade and this place looks relatively attractive. And there are technical things about the exchange but it was an insight that these people who I know from Wall Street are coming and I'm going to build the casino that they want to be in.
ZAKARIA: It's such a complicated story but at the heart of it it seemed to be what he did wrong, what the government alleges he did wrong, seems pretty simple. In finance there was kind of a sacred rule that if you have customers' money, you can use it only for very specified purposes and ones that the customer understands.
ZAKARIA: And he took that money, $9 billion of it.
ZAKARIA: And moved it -- and moved it. Right. So, at the heart -- is this a very simple story of massive misuse of customer -- of third- party funds as they call it?
LEWIS: It is easily muddied up and made more complicated than that because of how -- the how and the why of it.
[10:45:02] But the what of it everybody agrees. I mean, even his lawyers aren't disputing this, that crypto was unusual, in that unlike say on the stock exchange, crypto actually is -- crypto exchanges serve as the custodians. So, if you own crypto at FTX, you kept your money at FTX as if it were a bank. And they were meant to keep your crypto in cold storage like it was just supposed to be there and customers would have thought that was true.
And what was true instead was that money was largely inside of Sam Bankman-Fried's private hedge fund, Alameda Research. So, everybody agrees with that. Where it gets complicated is the how and the why and the intent. And this is where it gets a little messy.
The bulk of the money gets -- how it gets there is in the beginning banks wouldn't open accounts for FTX. Not because FTX was an illegal thing but because they just didn't want to be associated with crypto. They had opened accounts for Alameda Research because Alameda Research is sort of like -- tricked them into thinking this wasn't crypto.
And so, in order to get your fiat currency, your dollars and your yen and your euros on the FTX, you had to send it to an account in Alameda Research and it just stayed there. Even after later on FTX gets bank accounts it's pulled there and never gets moved. What I found, just from the point of view of storytelling is that if you took -- if you look at this thing from -- not just Sam's point of view, but point of view of the people who work for him, point of view of people outside of the firm, that you might come out with different answers.
Different readers might conclude different things about the intentions of Sam Bankman-Fried. I think some of the readers would lynch him. I think the others might think, this guy is just weird enough so that this was maybe more complicated than just pure theft.
ZAKARIA: Stay with us for a moment. When we come back, I'm going to ask a question that many of our viewers have asked, does Michael Lewis let Sam Bankman-Fried off too easily in this book?
ZAKARIA: And we are back with Michael Lewis, the author of the new book "Going Infinite." So, Michael, you've read the reviews. You've heard people say -- lots of people think you're very soft on this guy.
He's a crookster. He's a fraud. He ran a Ponzi scheme. Government claims is the biggest -- one of the biggest frauds in history. You even, in the way you've been responding, you're quite sympathetic to his point of view.
LEWIS: I don't think that's exactly -- if you read the book, the book -- so the book is -- the book is -- there's a structure to this thing. It is not me. And using other people to tell the story.
What I don't do, and this -- I mean, this is intentional, is I just don't -- I don't inject my own judgement. I just felt like I'm writing a story for kind of a juror to read. It wasn't my job to like pile on with the moral outrage. It is my job to report what I saw. To tell a story.
ZAKARIA: Well -- but all of your books, they report. But they have a -- I mean, the "Times," for example, said Michael Lewis knows how to tell happy stories. He doesn't know how to tell tragedies and this is a story of fraud and, you know, ripping people off and it's --
LEWIS: It's so much more than that, though. If you told it as just that, you're missing a lot of the fun of the story and the interest of the story and the curiosity of the story. So, one of the benefits I had -- like my privileged position was I was there before it all went bad. I was there for a year before it went bad, trying to figure out what this story was, hadn't written a word but was thinking -- just thinking through what this was so I could see the rise as well as the fall.
And right from the beginning, I didn't think of it -- certainly didn't think of this as a Sam Bankman-Fried hero story. That was never the thing I was thinking. But I was thinking right from the start, the day I meet Sam Bankman-Fried, the day he starts telling me this story about how 18 months ago he had zero dollars and now he has $22 billion and he's kind of bemused by it, and the world is organizing itself around this pile of money.
I thought of this as social satire. I thought he's like walking social satire. That he is lighting up parts of the world for us to understand because of his peculiar position in the world, and his peculiar relationship to the world.
ZAKARIA: Do you like him as a person?
LEWIS: Oh, yes, I liked him when I met him and I like him now. But I could tell you, when it all fell apart, it wasn't that shocking to me because I have -- there is a -- there's a foreshadowing of what is going to happen in this company in 2018 when he opens his hedge fund.
It all falls apart. Half of the people he's working with think he's a crook or so radically catastrophically sloppy and careless that he might as well be a crook and they quit. And the money -- and money is lost and nobody knows where it is. They wind up finding it.
But he was -- this is all part of this character's like -- as a crime, this crime doesn't make a whole lot of sense in that his wealth and the wealth of all of the people who worked at this place was tied up in this actually successful business called FTX. There was this cancer on the side of the business, the legacy business, this hedge fund which was wholly unnecessary to the main business.
Any sane person would have just shutdown the hedge fund the minute this thing went boom. And -- so, there's an insanity to this. It's not like, oh, this is Bernie Madoff. He had to do this because it was just a necessary Ponzi scheme. So, it was --
ZAKARIA: Now, he was making half a billion dollars legally. That is --
LEWIS: It's crazy. "Forbes" magazine when they decide he's worth $22.5 billion they're only valuing this business, this is actually a successful business.
And the character I had come to know when it all implodes is a character -- it's a really curious character and that -- and I'm very much a creature of modern Wall Street. He thrives in a state of semi chaos. Like, anything stable, like he would be a horrible accountant. Anything stable, careful, calculated, predictable, he can't function.
Total chaos isn't good because he does have this aptitude for quickly sussing out situations and adapting to change. So, figuring out that this is where he excels in this kind of like board game like situations, he turns everything around him into this because that is where he's relatively strong. And this was a version of this.
And he made it all more complicated than it needed to be. If you ask me, the other question, do I think he's going to jail? Yes, I think he's going to jail. I think it is highly unlikely he doesn't go to jail. I just think the circumstances are just -- it is a shame to ignore how interesting the circumstances are.
ZAKARIA: Michael Lewis, always a pleasure.
LEWIS: My pleasure.
ZAKARIA: Thanks to Bianna Golodryga and thanks to all of you for being a part of my program this week. I will see you next week.