Washington (CNN) - Bill Clinton is giving embattled investment bank Goldman Sachs the benefit of the doubt. Sort of.
The former president, who spoke Wednesday at a Peterson Foundation summit on the nation's fiscal plight, said he is "not at all sure that they did violate the law."
Goldman is facing fraud charges filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The government claims that Goldman failed to disclose key information when selling a complex mortgage security in 2007. The firm is accused of failing to disclose the participation of a hedge fund in creating an investment that was doomed to fail.
"These Goldman guys are mad because they think they were targeted," Clinton told CBS anchor Bob Schieffer, who served as the questioner during the Clinton session.
At the same time, Clinton questioned the broader social utility of the investment at issue in the Goldman case – known as a derivative.
"If you're a farmer in east Arkansas, you want to hedge against the prospect that you'll have a bad crop year," Clinton said. "That has legitimate economic purposes. What purpose was served by this?"
Executives of Goldman, which vigorously denies the SEC charges, were berated Tuesday by lawmakers in a day-long hearing on Capitol Hill. The Senate is locked in a partisan fight over legislation to overhaul the rules of Wall Street, and how to regulate derivatives is a key bone of contention. Democrats' effort to begin debate on the bill failed Wednesday for the third time in as many days.