Washington (CNN) – President Obama denied Wednesday that the White House had any role in the recently announced decision to file civil fraud charges against Goldman Sachs, the gilded Wall Street investment banking firm.
In an interview with CNBC, Obama said he spoke about the need for financial regulatory reform during his presidential campaign in 2007 and 2008 and that the White House has been working on financial regulatory reform legislation for more than a year. "And so, we're not Johnny-come-latelies to this thing," Obama said on CNBC.
The Securities and Exchange Commission announced last Friday that it is pursuing civil fraud charges against Goldman Sachs, a powerful investment bank with a long history of ties to the government. The announcement by the Wall Street watchdog came just a day before Obama personally led the charge of Democrats' full frontal assault on Republicans for their objections to some aspects of the current reform bill.
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Notwithstanding the coincidental timing, Obama said the SEC made the decision on its own.
"The SEC is an entirely independent agency that we have no day-to-day control over and they never discussed with us anything with respect to the charge that would be brought. The notion that somehow there would be any attempt to interfere in any independent agency is completely false," the president said.
Obama also described the White House's lack of involvement as "categorical," saying, "We found out about it on CNBC," he said.
(Updated after the jump with a statement from the SEC)
The president also discussed campaign contributions he's received from Goldman Sachs employees and the fact that his former White House counsel, Greg Craig, has been retained to represent the Wall Street giant as it defends itself against charges that it defrauded investors who placed bets on complicated financial instruments.
"I got a lot of money from a lot of people," Obama said, "and the vast majority of the money I got was from small donors all across the country. Moreover, anyone who gave me money during the course of my campaign knew that I was on record, again, in 2007, in 2008 pushing very strongly that we needed to reform how Wall Street did business. So nobody should be surprised in the position that I'm taking now because it's one that I was very clear about during the course of the campaign."
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Obama described Craig as "one of the top lawyers in the country" who has "a range of clients." And the president rejected the notion that Craig could influence the administration in Goldman's favor.
"We have toughest ethics rules that any president has ever had. And the one thing that [Craig] knows is that he cannot talk to the White House, he cannot lobby the White House. Once he left the White House, he cannot in any way use his former position to have any influence on us."
Obama told CNBC that neither Craig's role nor Goldman's contributions will effect how the White House moves forward on Wall Street reform.
Update, 5:15 p.m.: The head of the SEC released a written statement Wednesday after portions of the president's interview aired. “The SEC is an independent law enforcement agency," SEC Chairwoman Mary Schapiro said. "We do not coordinate our enforcement actions with the White House, Congress or political committees. We do not time our cases around political events or the legislative calendar." Schapiro added, "We will neither bring cases, nor refrain from bringing them, because of the political consequences. We will be governed always and only by the facts and the law.”