Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner on Monday flatly denied allegations made in a new book that he had essentially ignored an order from President Obama to restructure CitiBank during the heart of the economic recession two years ago.
The book, called “Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President,” is set for release Tuesday and was written by author and journalist Ron Suskind. In it, Suskind writes of discord among Obama’s top economic advisers and paints Geithner as resistent to Obama’s plan to restructure Citi, which the government had bailed out.
Geithner appeared before the White House press corps Monday to explain Obama’s $4 trillion deficit reduction plan. Asked about the allegations, he said: “I haven’t read the book, but I lived the reality. Reports I read about the book bear no resemblance to the reality we lived together. No resemblance.”
The White House has mounted an aggressive push-back against Suskind, who says his book was based on more than 200 interviews, including one with Obama.
Press Secretary Jay Carney accused Suskind of making errors on basic facts, such as dates, statistics and titles, that cast doubt on the larger conclusions in the book. And Carney accused Suskind of lifting one passage almost word-for-word from Wikipedia.
“Based on that, I would caution that anyone who can’t get those things right can’t get the broader analysis right,” Carney said. “That analysis is wrong.”
Carney did not specify which passage was copied from Wikipedia, but Politico reported that Suskind’s description of Fannie Mae was similar to that which appears in the crowd-sourced online encyclopedia.
Suskind: “In 1968 it officially became a publicly held corporation, to remove its debt and related activities from the federal balance sheet.”
Wikipedia: “in 1968 it converted to a publicly held corporation, to remove its activity and debt from the federal budget.”
Suskind has not commented on the White House criticisms.
According to Suskind’s book, in early 2009, Obama had decided to authorize a series of Geithner-designed stress tests for the banks to determine whether they were likely to survive the financial crisis without additional funds. Obama saw this moment as one when he could begin to overhaul Wall Street, and told the Treasury secretary to develop a plan to restructure Citi.
A month later, at a meeting Geithner didn’t attend, Obama asked about the plan.
“I’m sorry, Mr. President,” Romer said, “but there is no resolution plan for Citi.”
The book says that Obama was stunned. “Well, there better be,” he said.
Suskind alleges that Geithner, who disagreed with immediately pressing a plan to overhaul Citi, simply did not produce the plan.
In an interview with Suskind, Geithner denied that he ignored the president’s request. “I don’t slow-walk the president on anything,” he told him.
On Monday, Geithner told reporters: “Absolutely not. I would never do that. I would never contemplate doing that. I lived the original. The reality I lived bear no relations to stories I heard reported by that book.”
Added Carney: “In the extraordinarily difficult times this country was going through, this president took office and the extraordinarily complex and difficult decisions this president took weren’t easy. But they were necessary. He took decisive leadership, with a clarity of vision of where we needed to move the country and accepted the need to suffer political risk to do the right thing for the country.”