Geithner backs off claim of White House pressure after memoir stirs controversy

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner claimed in his newly published book that the White House tried to put words in his mouth -- but now that those words are coming back to haunt him, he appears to be trying to rewrite his story.

In an interview with Fox News' Bret Baier, the former Obama Cabinet member denied that the White House attempted to get him to mislead the public.

"I was never, ever in the position where anyone in the White House asked me to do that," he told Fox News. "And of course, I would never have done it. But Dan Pfeiffer never asked me to do that."

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

"It wasn't a main driver of our future deficits, but it did contribute," Geithner wrote. "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."

Asked Wednesday about that meeting, Geithner expressed gratitude for Pfeiffer's guidance.

He said Pfeiffer was being "helpful," by pointing out "that we didn't want to look like our proposals ... were proposals that were going to appear to some as cutting Social Security benefits to cover the shortfalls."

He said the administration didn't want its proposals to be "vulnerable to misperceptions" that they would try to address the deficit "on the backs of Social Security." He said Pfeiffer "was right about that."

Asked, though, whether Social Security does contribute, he said: "To the long-term fiscal problem? Yeah, because, as is obvious, it's just a math thing."

The new comments come after the anecdote from Geithner's memoir caused some trouble for the White House earlier this week.

Press Secretary Jay Carney defended Pfeiffer on Monday, 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.

This wasn't the only allegation of White House pressure. In his book, 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."