WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama pushed his administration to break up Citibank early during his tenure but was thwarted by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Ron Suskind's new book reports. Although the White House now disputes that version of events, Suskind said in an interview Friday that the president did not dispute it when Suskind presented it to him before publication.
According to Suskind's book "Confidence Men," Obama told the author that he was agitated Geithner wouldn't follow through on the president's wish to break up Citibank. In the aftermath of the economy collapsing in late 2008, Obama was trying to develop options to handle banks saddled with large amounts of toxic assets.
The book reports that Obama's effort was effectively stopped by Geithner "slow-walking" it, although the treasury secretary did not flat-out refuse to take action on Citibank. In one April 2009 meeting, when Obama asked specifically about the bank, he was told "there is no plan" by Christina Romer, who at the time chaired the Council of Economic Advisers.
Suskind's book describes Obama and then-Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel clashing with Geithner's office over the apparent disrespect to the president's authority.
The White House is now pushing back against Suskind's book, one that has rattled it more than anything else published during Obama's tenure. But before the book was published, top officials were much more subdued in suggesting Suskind had anything wrong.
"This long series of events and conversations was confirmed by all of the participants, all of them heard this, and none of them disputed it prior to the publication of the book," Suskind said Friday on the TV/radio news show Democracy Now.
"The president doesn't dispute any of it. … I think readers are going to decide for themselves," Suskind said on Democracy Now.
According to a transcript of an interview with Suskind that was released by the White House, Obama said he was "trying to remember" the events and thought "agitated" wasn't the right word.
Geithner struck back at a press briefing on Monday.
"Absolutely not, and I would never do that," said Geithner about the Citibank allegations, adding, "I lived the original, and the reality I lived, we all lived together, bears no relation to the sad little stories I heard about the book."
According to "Confidence Men," Geithner told Suskind he did not "slow walk the president on anything."
The book by the Pulitzer prize-winning journalist says that Obama's authority was "systematically" disrespected.
Over at Slate, Jacob Weisberg argues that disputes over the accuracy of "Confidence Men" are meant to drive book sales. "Suskind loves disputes like this, as do his publishers, because they sell more books," Weisberg wrote.
The White House is on a full-out defensive campaign. In one release per Politico, rather than strike against major claims, the White House pointed out the following smaller errors:
1.) Suskind wrote that Larry Summers needed Senate confirmation to lead the National Economic Council. 2.) Suskind wrote that Secretary Geithner served as 'Chairman' of the New York Fed. 3.) Suskind wrote that Gene Sperling served as 'an assistant Treasury Secretary.' 4.) Suskind wrote that Geithner had 'never been an undersecretary' at Treasury. 5.) Suskind wrote that the acronym for the Bank for International Settlements is 'BASEL.' 6.) Suskind wrote that Gene Sperling played tennis at the University of Michigan.
That the White House has had top officials dispute the book and send out memos nitpicking smaller details suggests the threat it sees in "Confidence Men."
Suskind repeatedly said Friday that the book (at the end) includes responses from many players who are now distancing themselves from the details or flat-out denying them.
For his book, Suskind said he interviewed more than 200 people, including top-level officials and the president himself.