"The events of the past five days have fueled legitimate suspicion on the part of the American people that the Commission has attempted to assist the White House, the Democratic party, and Congressional Democrats by timing the suit to coincide with the Senate's consideration of financial regulatory legislation or by providing Democrats with advance notice," nine Republicans on the House Oversight Committee wrote in a letter to SEC chairman Mary Schapiro.
Obama dismissed such charges and said the White House found out about the SEC case like everyone else -- through the news media.
"We found out about it on CNBC," Obama said. The SEC is independent agency which we have no control over and never discussed with us. The notion that we would interfere with agency is completely false."
As the country struggles to rebound from the recent recession, many Americans still believe Wall Street banks have not done enough to repair the damage done in the wake of the financial meltdown. In a March 22 ABC News poll, 77 percent said these firms have not done enough to make amends for their role in the meltdown, while 69 percent said the banks owe it to the nation to try to help struggling Americans.
On the backs of that populist outrage, Obama has repeatedly directed strong rhetoric at Wall Street, but whether it has had any effect is unclear.
In a speech on Wall Street Sept. 14, the president said, "What I want to emphasize is this: normalcy cannot lead to complacency. Unfortunately there are some in the financial industry who are misreading this moment. Instead of learning the lessons of Lehman and the crisis from which we are still recovering, they are choosing to ignore them. They do so not just at their own peril, but at our nation's.
"So I want them to hear my words: We will not go back to the days of reckless behavior and unchecked excess at the heart of this crisis, where too many were motivated only by the appetite for quick kills and bloated bonuses. Those on Wall Street cannot resume taking risks without regard for consequences, and expect that next time, American taxpayers will be there to break their fall."
But the New York state comptroller has estimated that $20.3 billion was paid out in bonuses in 2009 on Wall Street.
In an interview with "60 Minutes" in December, the president said, "They don't get it. They're still puzzled why it is that people are mad at the banks. Well, let's see. You guys are drawing down $10 million, $20 million bonuses after America went through the worst economic year that it's gone through in decades and you guys caused the problem."
"I did not run for office," he said, "to be helping out a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street."
The president's trip to New York City today comes at a crucial time for the White House, with the Senate pushing forward with financial regulatory overhaul proposals.
The Senate Banking Committee passed chairman Chris Dodd's bill out of the panel last month along a party-line vote. On Wednesday the Agriculture Committee passed legislation that would create more transparency in the derivatives market. Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley backed the measure.