Obama stays out of dispute with French bank: ‘I’ll read about it in the newspapers’

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From problems at VA medical centers to the IRS scandal, President Obama has come under fire for claiming he first learned of troubling matters within his own administration from news reports.

But on Thursday, the president proudly stated that he’s staying out of a dispute with France’s largest bank as the Justice Department mulls huge fines against the institution, and Mr. Obama said he will rely on the media to keep him informed of new developments.

At a news conference alongside British Prime Minister David Cameron, the president said he’ll remain willfully ignorant of the details of the case and will learn of potential fines or settlements when the public does.

“This will be determined by U.S. attorneys in discussion with representatives of the bank, and, you know, I’ll read about it in the newspapers just like everybody else,” Mr. Obama said at the news conference in Brussels.

The dispute centers on the French bank BNP Paribas and whether the institution did business with clients in Iran, Sudan and Cuba through its New York office from 2002 to 2009. Such transactions would violate U.S. trade sanctions.

BNP recently said it fears U.S. fines “far in excess” of the $1.1 billion it has already set aside in response to the American investigation, according to the Associated Press.

The Justice Department reportedly is also investigating two other French banks.

The issue has cast a cloud over the relationship between the U.S. and France with Mr. Obama and French President Francois Hollande set to meet later on Thursday.

But Mr. Obama said he won’t be discussing the case with Mr. Hollande, or with his Attorney General Eric Holder.

“The tradition of the United States is that the president does not meddle in prosecutions. We don’t call the attorney general — I do not pick up the phone and tell the attorney general how to prosecute cases that have been brought,” the president said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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