“I would try to think about ways to help soften his image,” said Ted Truman, who worked for Geithner in 2009 and was a friend for many years before. “He didn’t have anything to point to or realistically say when he was talking about these issues so that he could bring it home to Main Street.”
‘Are you sure you want to pay?’
After long days at work during the crisis, Geithner sometimes went out to dinner with top advisers at one of his favorite spots, Indian restaurant Rasika in Penn Quarter. Geithner always insisted on paying.
One time, the gesture struck a colleague as odd. “Are you sure you want to pay?” said Mark Patterson, his chief of staff, a former top congressional aide turned Goldman Sachs executive. “You’re the fourth poorest person at the table.”
The others, Neal Wolin, deputy Treasury secretary, and Jake Siewert, Geithner’s counselor, had held top jobs at the Hartford Financial Services Group and Alcoa, respectively, before coming to the Obama administration. Geithner had worked at the IMF and at the New York Fed.
“I’ll be fine,” he responded.
Geithner made a healthy salary, of course, but his life was far different from the long line of millionaires who held the job of Treasury secretary before him — including one of his mentors, Robert Rubin, and his predecessor, Henry Paulson, both of Goldman Sachs.
It was a critical difference: Geithner had surrounded himself with finance executives, but he was never one himself. When Obama turned to the matter of rewriting the nation’s financial rules, that distance became an important factor.
Early in the process, during a meeting with Obama at the White House, Jamie Dimon, the chief of executive of JPMorgan Chase, made an offer to come with other bankers to Treasury to help develop the broad framework for how to tighten oversight of Wall Street.
Geithner declined. Dimon followed up. Geithner declined again. Dimon grew frustrated and complained personally to Obama and others in the White House that Geithner was being unhelpful, according to people familiar with the matter.
But his protestations fell on deaf ears.
To his colleagues, the Treasury secretary described bankers who relentlessly protested the new regulations as “whiners” and, in routine meetings with top chief executives held at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel, he often told them they should stop fighting regulation.
The passage of Dodd-Frank ruptured relations between Geithner and Wall Street — as well as between Wall Street and the president, whom the industry had supported in the 2008 campaign and turned heavily against last year.