President Barack Obama seemed irritated when a reporter wanted to know whether he had acted too slowly on the issue of fat bonuses paid to AIG executives.
It was noted that New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo had responded swiftly to the bonus controversy, demanding that the bonuses be returned or else. The threat was that the names of those who didn't give back the money would be released.
Obama obviously didn't like the comparison. Asked why he didn't express outrage immediately on hearing about the bonuses, Obama was curt. ''Well, it took us a couple of days because I like to know what I'm talking about before I speak.''
Later, White House aides denied that the President meant any criticism of Cuomo. Yet what Obama said could certainly be interpreted that way.
The fact is that Cuomo did act fast. By demanding that the bonus recipients give back the money, he was responding to the feeling of outrage that swept through America. By Tuesday the attorney general was able to report that, as a result of his tough approach, nine of the top 10 bonus recipients had agreed to pay back $50 million of $165 million.
The president and tens of millions of other Americans were deeply angered by revelation of the bonus deal. And Cuomo certainly deserves credit for his quick response to the widespread anguish. But there's another side to this story.
By threatening to publish their names if they didn't give back the money, was Attorney General Cuomo stepping over the line? In a government of law with firm precedents of civil liberties, was it fair to the people who received the bonuses to threaten them with exposure?
The New York Times website contained some observations from readers about Cuomo's action.
“People have forgotten about personal responsibility and threatening to release people's names and possibly lessen their and more importantly their families security is not the answer nor American,” one reader commented.
Another person declared: “This stuff is ridiculous. What happened to the rule of law? Do we now condone blackmail? The bonuses are unseemly but there is a legal process to deal with this...''
Our attorney general is tough and, sometimes, brash. In this case, he seems to have strayed beyond the limits of proper legal behavior.