Obama Backs Geithner Despite Vast Criticisms — No Talk of Treasury Secretary Resigning, President Says in ‘60 Minutes' Interview

"Sorry," Timothy Geithner, "you've still got the job," Obama jokes. (By Ron Edmonds -- Associated Press)
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By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 22, 2009

Embattled Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner's job is safe and the subject of resignation has not come up in his conversations with President Obama despite calls from some in Congress for Geithner to step down, the president said in an interview to be broadcast tonight on CBS's "60 Minutes."

In excerpts released yesterday by CBS, Obama joked that even if Geithner offered to step down, he would say, "Sorry, buddy, you've still got the job." The hail of criticism that has hit Geithner for his handling of the bonuses paid by insurance giant AIG -- which only heightened the critique of his overall handling of the financial crisis -- is to be expected, the president said.

"It's going to take a little bit more time than we would like to make sure that we get this plan just right. Of course, then we'd still be subject to criticism," Obama said. " 'What's taken so long? You've been in office a whole 40 days and you haven't solved the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression.' "

In the interview, which took place at the White House on Friday, Obama acknowledged that he needs support of big Wall Street investors if his administration's plan to use federal money to leverage private investment to buy toxic assets is to succeed.

The assets are weighing down the balance sheets of some of the nation's largest banks. The administration is expected to unveil details of that plan as soon as tomorrow. But at the same time, Obama added, many of those executives need a greater appreciation of how their actions and lifestyles are viewed by average Americans.

"They need to spend a little time outside of New York. Because . . . if you go to North Dakota, or you go to Iowa, or you go to Arkansas, where folks would be thrilled to be making $75,000 a year -- without a bonus -- then I think they'd get a sense of why people are frustrated," he said.

Obama also took aim at former vice president Richard B. Cheney, who has said that Obama's plan to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and end torture of terrorism suspects has made the United States less safe.

"How many terrorists have actually been brought to justice under the philosophy that is being promoted by Vice President Cheney? It hasn't made us safer. What it has been is a great advertisement for anti-American sentiment," Obama said.

Asked about some terrorism suspects who have been released only to return to terrorism, the president acknowledged that the government had to do a better job of distinguishing between those who pose a threat and those who do not.

"There is no doubt that we have not done a particularly effective job in sorting through who are truly dangerous individuals . . . to make sure [they] are not a threat to us," Obama said.

But he added that the Bush administration's policy of holding detainees at the Guantanamo prison for long periods of time without trials was "unsustainable."

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