WASHINGTON — The White House says it is confident in Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner amid widespread outrage over millions in bonuses insurance giant AIG gave to executives after receiving federal bailout money.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Tuesday that President Barack Obama has confidence in Geithner and the Treasury Department's oversight. But Gibbs underscored that Obama is working as quickly as possible with Congress to find ways to block the bonuses at the American International Group Inc. or recoup that money.
"The Secretary of Treasury did as much in his legal power at the time to lessen the impact of what we all understand is outrageous," Gibbs said. "Let's make sure that everybody understands that there was a change in administration between September of 2008 and what we were talking about sometime last week."
Republicans said Obama and his administration should have leaned harder on AIG executives to reject the bonuses of $165 million for top executives.
"I think it would be very unfair based on the actions the Secretary of Treasury took as we got closer to the pending legal deadline to restructure what could be restructured," Gibbs said of people who blame Geithner for the mess. "The Secretary did good work in changing what was potentially out there."
Responding to Republican critics, Gibbs asked them to think about "what they did or didn't do to change the way executives were compensated before Barack Obama came to town as president."
AIG has received tens of billions of dollars in bailout money.
Gibbs sought to put the focus on bigger reforms ahead.
He said Obama wants both financial regulation reform and a new "resolution authority" to deal with giants like AIG that get into complex financial trouble. He said that authority would be used "in order to break apart, unwind and finally resolve the issues that we face with systemic risk."
Taking a series of questions about AIG from reporters in his daily briefing, Gibbs had no answers for many matters, including when Obama learned about the bonuses and why the president did not discuss them until a contractual deadline about the bonuses had passed last week.
Asked directly if Obama is satisfied that he found out about the bonuses in a timely fashion, Gibbs said: "Yes, the president is satisfied."
"The president certainly won't be satisfied until, moving forward, we have changed the way we do business in Washington, changed the way we do business on Wall Street, to ensure that there's a financial regulatory system that's in place in order not to find things like AIG happening again," Gibbs said.
Gibbs joked at one point that all the tough questions at Tuesday's briefing amounted to torture. "I would posit that the CIA should look at the process which I'm undergoing," he said. "This is applicable under the Geneva Conventions."