Apparently the HuffPo has learned, by way of a Freedom of Information Act request, that the OLC prepared a memo assessing the legality of the infamous Trillion Dollar platinum coin. However, the DoJ won't release the memo:
The Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, which functions as a sort of law firm for the president and provides him and executive branch agencies with authoritative legal advice, formally weighed in on the platinum coin option sometime since Obama took office, according to OLC's recent response to HuffPost's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. While the letter acknowledged the existence of memos on the platinum coin option, OLC officials determined they were "not appropriate for discretionary release."
(k) The Secretary may mint and issue platinum bullion coins and proof platinum coins in accordance with such specifications, designs, varieties, quantities, denominations, and inscriptions as the Secretary, in the Secretary's discretion, may prescribe from time to time.
Matt Yglesias provided a lovely example of the sort of ignorance at work. What he didn't realize is that the concept of a "bullion coin" has a clear meaning in the nummismatic world. Let's cut to the US Mint:
A bullion coin is a coin that is valued by its weight in a specific precious metal. Unlike commemorative or numismatic coins valued by limited mintage, rarity, condition and age, bullion coins are purchased by investors seeking a simple and tangible means to own and invest in the gold, silver, and platinum markets.
So the Mint sells one ounce gold coins worth (roughly) $1,200 dollars with a face value of $50, but not the opposite. That would be an example of a bullion coin, which is what the statute authorized. Matt was having a 'har de har' about the ninnies at Fox News who thought that a trillion dollar platinum bullion coin would actually need to have a trillion dollars worth of platinum; if words have meaning, they were right.
Ahh, but what about the coins jingling in your pocket? Surely their value as molten metal is less than their value as a coin? No doubt; the excess value is known as "seignorage", and Matt was helpful enough to illustrate the ignorance at work there as well, with this headlined claim:
The Platinum Coin Was Intended To Generate Seigniorage
Wrong again, but thanks for playing! The US Mint makes 'seignorage' profits on the circulating coins it distributes to banks. It makes the same sort of manufacturing profits GM or Apple makes when it competes in the global market for bullion coins by offering gold, silver, and platinum coins at a cost-competitive basis. I hope Matt does not believe that when the US Mint converts an ounce of gold into a $50 American Eagle and sells it for $1500 that there is a seignorage profit. Let's see what the Mint says about their platinum coin:
All American Eagles are legal tender coins, with their face value imprinted in U.S. dollars. Although their face value is largely symbolic, it provides proof of their authenticity as official U.S. coinage. The one-ounce platinum coin displays the highest face value ($100) ever to appear on a U.S. coin.
With platinum near $1,400 an ounce there is no seignorage there (OK, "largely symbolic" as a description of the $100 face amount works a a clue, too).
So if the Mint can't issue a trillion dollar platinum bullion coin without that much platinum, can it offer a "proof platinum coin"? Conventional usage would say not - a "proof" coin is a specially produced version of a coin that is also made by conventional minting techniques. The notion of a "proof" version of a bullion coin that could not exist in conventional form is meaningless. So unless the Mint if prepared to produce a beautifully struck coin with a trillion dollars worth of platinum in it, the "proof" alternative is excluded.
I would love to see the OLC memo, mainly to see whether they actually use a phrase such as "cranial-anal impaction". And of course, the Fed's lawyers would have to sign off on this before they cut the trillion dollar check, and that would never happen - the idea of the Fed risking its independence and alienating Congress forever by participating in this sort of Executive Branch end-run seems to ignore the history of the central bank in this country.
My strong suspicion is that Prof. Tribe did roughly as much homewrk as Matt, slid the phrase "bullion coin" as meaningless static, and pressed on.