Gibbs Hammered On AIG At White House Briefing

(CBS)
This was not an easy day on the job for White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, who compared his treatement from the press corps today to torture.

"I would posit that the CIA should look at the process in which I'm undergoing [questioning]," Gibbs joked following 20 minutes of hard questions about the Obama administration's handling of the large bonuses being paid out by insurance company AIG.

The briefing went on for nearly an hour; the vast majority of the questions revolved around AIG, which has received billions of bailout dollars from the government. Many were premised on the notion that President Obama, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and the administration have mishandled the revelations about the company, which have fueled populist anger and potentially lessened the president's political capital.

Early on, Gibbs told reporters that the White House and President Obama continue to have "complete confidence" in Geithner and are unconcerned about the oversight process of the Treasury Department.

"The secretary of Treasury did as much in his legal power at the time to lessen the impact of what we all understand is outrageous," he said, latter adding that Geithner "took extraordinary steps, based on contracts that were in existence in April of last year, in order to do all that he could to protect the taxpayer."

Gibbs noted that the White House is seeking ways to keep the bonuses from being paid out, something that may not be possible because the bonuses were guaranteed in preexisting contracts.

That did not satisfy the White House press corps, however. Reporters noted that the administration apparently knew about the situation back in January, but that Geithner said he only found out about it last week.

"And the question is, why didn't he know about it sooner?," one questioner asked. "Did he talk to the president about it? And why didn't the president start talking about it until, you know, yesterday and officials over the weekend?"

That was followed up with questions about whether Geithner failed to foresee the public relations problem the situation created. One reporter said "clearly somebody dropped the ball," while another, frustrated with Gibbs' responses, said "maybe I'm beating a dead horse here, but I'm not hearing the answer."

Here's one series of questions:
"…surely you would grant that you wish that you had known about these bonuses before the $30 billion that you guys gave or lent AIG two weeks ago?"

"But do you not see that -- are you confident that the oversight process at Treasury is working properly?"

"But why didn't you know about it until last week?"

"Is it possible that Secretary Geithner did not completely inform the president about what was happening here until it really just all blew up?"
Later, Gibbs was pressed on when the president found out about the bonuses; when he said he didn't know, one frustrated reporter asked why Gibbs hadn't asked, prompting the press secretary to say, "there are a lot of questions I haven't asked the president."

At one point, CBS News chief White House correspondent Chip Reid asked Gibbs why the president can't just say "No, we're not making those payments," since it owns 80 percent of the company.

Gibbs noted he is not a contracts lawyer, adding, "obviously, if it were as easy as all of that, I can assure you we'd be talking about Russia."

Reid followed up with a question about how some on Capitol Hill question the genuineness of the president's outrage in light of the fact that "his economic team had just thoroughly looked into these payments and concluded they had to be made."

Gibbs responded that no one "should doubt the genuineness of the outrage."

President Obama "changed the way we did business here and the way Wall Street did business by instituting the toughest executive compensation rules that had ever been entered into, changing the lawlessness with which all of this was governed prior to that announcement," he said.

Continued the press secretary: "So I think it would bear some going back to any of the critics of the president's genuine outrage and ask them what they did or didn't do to change the way executives are compensated before Barack Obama got to town as president of the United States."

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