CHICAGO – In his new memoir out Monday, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner blasts U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois for "delusional" comments he allegedly made to Chinese officials about U.S. debt while a congressman in 2009.
Geithner describes an incident on his first trip to China as secretary in 2009 when an embassy official called to tell him that Kirk, a Republican, held an "unusual meeting" with Chinese officials where he advised them not to buy U.S. Treasury securities or other U.S. government debt as spending was driving the country toward default and "that the Fed was creating hyperinflation."
"I couldn't believe it. Not only were those fears delusional, but he was undermining American interests on foreign soil," Geithner writes in the 500-some page book. "I called him on his way out of China to explain that there was this noble tradition in politics that you don't criticize the United States while you're abroad – and you definitely shouldn't say we're going to default on our debts. But partisan politics no longer seemed to stop at the water's edge."
Kirk's office didn't confirm Geithner's account on Monday, but issued a statement.
"Since traveling to China in 2009, our nation's debt has grown from $11.9 trillion to $17.5 trillion. What is fact, and not delusional, is that our spending habit cripples our economic recovery and is undeniably unsustainable," the statement said.
Kirk helped form the House U.S.-China Working Group in 2005 and has traveled to China several times over the years. The travels included a 2009 trip through the nonprofit National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. The idea was to focus on the effects of the financial and economic crisis on China's economy and the concerns of American companies in China, according to the committee's 2009 annual report. The delegation Kirk was a part of stopped in several cities including Beijing, where they met with high-ranking officials.
The paragraph about Kirk, who won his Senate seat in 2010, is part of Geithner's book chronicling his turbulent four years in office as the Obama administration faced the worst recession and most severe financial crisis since the Great Depression.
Geithner describes how the rise of the tea party "reflected and also intensified the Republican Party's decades-long drift to the far right" before he said he believed Kirk was "one of the few nominally moderate Republicans left in Congress."
The book is called "Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises." In it, Geithner also said he repeatedly offered to resign in the wake of the financial crisis and even suggested that Hillary Rodham Clinton be among those considered as a replacement.