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Geithner, in memoir, suggests White House asked him to bend truth on deficit

 

Former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner claims in his new book that the White House on more than one occasion tried to put words in his mouth or outright asked him to bend the truth. 

In his memoir, "Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises," Geithner recalls a Sunday talk show prep session in 2011 during which top White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer wanted him to say Social Security "didn't contribute" to the federal deficit. Geithner wrote that he objected. 

"It wasn't a main driver of our future deficits, but it did contribute," Geithner wrote, explaining his own reasoning. "Pfeiffer said the line was a 'dog whistle' to the left, a phrase I had never heard before. He had to explain that the phrase was code to the Democratic base, signaling that we intended to protect Social Security." 

After the anecdote began to generate attention on Monday, a source close to Geithner clarified to Fox News that the former secretary "does not believe he was encouraged to go out and mislead the public on the Sunday shows." 

The source said all the former secretary was trying to get across was that Pfeiffer wanted him to "send a signal" to liberals about the president's commitment to not allowing major cuts to Social Security. 

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney also defended Pfeiffer, reiterating the White House position that Social Security is not the "main driver" of the deficit, when compared with health care-related entitlement programs. "That, I'm sure, is the point that Dan was making," Carney said. 

Still, the episode and others in the 544-page book, in stores Monday, provide a glimpse into how the White House screens and provides information to the public -- particularly following revelations about White House involvement in a "prep call" for then-U.N. ambassador Susan Rice's controversial appearance on Sunday shows after the 2012 Benghazi attacks. 

Geithner also recalled an incident in January 2009, having been on the job as secretary for less than a week, in which he rejected what a Democratic strategist wanted him to say at an Oval Office press event. 

"I was supposed to have my first one-on-one meeting with President Obama," Geithner wrote. "As I was about to walk into the Oval Office, Stephanie Cutter, a veteran Democratic operative who was handling our communications strategy, told me we would have a 'pool spray,' a photo opportunity for the White House press. 

"The president and I would make brief remarks about executive compensation, responding to a report that Wall Street firms had paid their executives big bonuses while piling up record losses in 2008. 'Here's what you're going to say,' Cutter said." 

Geithner wrote that Cutter handed him the text, and he "skimmed the outrage I was expected to express." 

He wrote: "I'm not very convincing as an angry populist, and I thought the artifice would look ridiculous." 

According to his memoir, he told Cutter he wouldn't do it. 

"Instead, I sat uncomfortably next to the president while he expressed outrage. Americans were furious about bailouts for overpaid bankers, and the White House political team wanted us to show we were on the right side of the backlash," he wrote. "The public outrage was appropriate ... but I didn't see how we could ever satisfy it. We had no legal authority to confiscate the bonuses that had been paid during the boom." 

Fox News' Ed Henry and FoxNews.com's Joseph Weber contributed to this report.