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WASHINGTON — The administration defended its role in the bailout of Wall Street investment bank Bear Stearns before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, saying that it was necessary to avert a greater breakdown in the financial market.

Timothy Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York; Christopher Cox, head of the Securities and Exchange Commission; and Treasury Under Secretary Robert Steel faced tough questions from Senators Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) on how the buyout was structured and priced and if signs of trouble signs were seen too late. “Was someone asleep at the switch?” asked Schumer.

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