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Bill Daley sidesteps question about jail time for Wall Street execs

White House Chief of Staff William Daley. Getty Images

White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley on Sunday brushed aside questions about whether President Obama believes Wall Street executives who perpetrated fraud that led to the 2008 financial crisis should have gone to jail, arguing that "politicians should not engage in trying to say who should be prosecuted, who--or who should not."

In a Sunday interview with NBC's "Meet the Press," Daley, who served as a JP Morgan executive during the 2008 crisis, argued that Mr. Obama had demonstrated his dissatisfaction with Wall Street by fighting for financial reform legislation, and said it would be irresponsible for a politician or the president to press for the prosecution of individuals.

Daley, the former Midwest chairman and head of corporate responsibility for JP Morgan, joined the bank in 2004 and served there until he was appointedto the Obama administration in January 2011. The New York Times reports that he earned $8.7 million in that capacity during 2010 and the first week of 2011.

Citing the recent comments of filmmaker Charles Ferguson, who during his Academy Awards acceptance speech for "The Inside Job" decried the fact that "three years after a horrific financial crisis caused by massive fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail," NBC's David Gregory asked Daley if the president agreed that fact was "wrong."

"I think the president--no one has been more out front on the need for financial reform," Daley responded. "Obviously, the justice system will take its place, and the politicians should not engage in trying to say who should be prosecuted, who--or who should not. That's not a responsible thing to do."

Daley said legitimate cases of fraud should be prosecuted by attorney generals, and argued that Mr. Obama had demonstrated his commitment to reform through legislative actions.

"The president felt very strongly, and that's why he fought so hard for financial regulatory reform, that the system has got to change," he continued. "Most of the laws that the financial sector worked under were, were enacted closer to the civil war than to this century. And he fought and was tough."

When pressed on whether it was "illegitimate for people to say that some of those CEOs on Wall Street should have gone to jail," Daley was inconclusive.

"I don't know if it's illegitimate or not," he said. "People have a right to say what they want. But I think if you're an elected official, you should allow the justice system to take over and move forward. And, and when there prosecutions that's up to that system. Politicians should not get involved. Producers, directors can do that, but politicians shouldn't get involved in that."

Daley pointed out that the White House some opposition by Wall Street in pushing through the financial reform bill, which passed through Congress last July, and which pledged to tighten restrictions on the financial industry and, ostensibly, rein in Wall Street.

"To be honest with you, I was in an industry that, at the time, as you mentioned, that fought many of it," Daley said. "Not all of it. Probably 80--85 percent of it the industry wanted. They wanted to stop 'too big to fail' and a number of other things. But it was controversial, difficult. But he hung in there and he got what he wanted, and that's a great statement of leadership."