Obama to Bankers: I’m Standing ‘Between You and the Pitchforks’

By Lindsey Ellerson

Apr 3, 2009 6:17pm

ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe reports: When President Obama welcomed the chief executives from 13 of the nation’s biggest banks to the White House last Friday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs billed it as a “good, productive, and frank” conversation. Emphasis, it appears, on the frank. As first reported by Politico’s Eamon Javers, and confirmed by ABC News with industry sources, some bankers gave explanations for the industry’s high salaries, such as "competing for talent on an international market."  But, President Obama cut them off. "My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks," the president told them. The CEOs might have guessed they were in for a rough go of it.  They found themselves gathered at a table with nothing more than a single glass of water at each seat. No food, no other beverages, no ice — no refills, even. During the meeting, JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon jokingly presented Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner with a fake check for $25 billion, the amount of money the bank got from the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Geithner didn’t take it. Joked Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis later, "I’m not going to suck up to Geithner and [NEC Director Larry] Summers like the other CEOs here have." After the meeting last Friday, one bank CEO told ABC News, "There were differences of opinion. I wouldn’t say it was contentious, but we weren’t all sitting around the table singing ‘Kumbaya’ either."

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