President Obama told CNBC Wednesday that there was no connection between the White House’s push for financial reform on Wall Street and the civil fraud charges filed against Goldman Sachs on Friday.
“We are not Johnny-come-latelies to this issue,” said Obama. He said he has been pushing for financial reform for the past three years.
Obama also said he wanted to cut the budget deficit without burdening the middle class with higher taxes.
But he will still let the Bush-era tax cuts expire at the end of this year, so those making more than $250,000 will see their taxes go back to what they were under the Clinton Administration. He called the those pre-Bush rates "perfectly fair."
The President made another push for financial reform, saying there need to be rules to guard against excesses on Wall Street.
"We have gotten into one of those places where we need to update those rules of the road," Obama said. "Not only is that good for the economy, not only does it protect consumers and investors, it's also good for the financial sector, because it will rebuild trust."
Obama will travel to Wall Street on Thursday, where he will call on the financial industry to get behind regulatory reform. CNBC and CNBC.com will carry the speech live.
"We're proposing to make sure that, Number 1, we don't have to bail out firms if they act recklessly," said Obama. "Number 2, that instruments like derivatives are all put in an exchange—a clearinghouse so that everyone knows what's going on." Third, he said, is "that we've got very strong consumer protections so that we don't have people fooled or tricked."
Some critics have questioned the government’s timing in announcing a civil fraud case against Goldman Sachs, saying it was aimed at pushing Congress to enact the financial reform bill.
But Obama said he had no advance knowledge of the SEC probe, saying "this notion that somehow there would be any attempt to interfere in an independent agency is completely false." Obama added, ''We found out about it (the SEC action) on CNBC.”
When asked whether he had any concerns about former White House counsel Greg Craig being hired by Goldman to represent the firm in the SEC action, the President said, “He is one of the top lawyers in the country. He has a range of clients."
Obama said strong ethics rules are in place that prevent former administration officials from lobbying the White House. (You can read the full transcript of the interview below.)