President Obama stands by auto czar Steven Rattner, probed in state pension fund kickback scandal BY Glenn Blain DAILY NEWS ALBANY BUREAU Saturday, April 18th 2009, 5:47 AM ALBANY - The Obama administration gave a vote of confidence to its embattled car czar Friday despite his involvement in a kickback scandal at the state pension fund. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama has faith in Manhattan exec Steven Rattner's leadership of the auto industry task force and doesn't think the controversy will hurt efforts to rescue carmakers. Gibbs noted that Rattner is not accused of any wrongdoing and unlikely to face criminal charges. "A pending investigation was something that he brought up to us," Gibbs told reporters aboard Air Force One. Still, David Cole, head of the nonprofit Center for Automotive Research, said the controversy could hurt talks with automakers and unions. "It is a distraction," Cole said. In February, the Daily News reported that Rattner was linked to the pay-for-play investigation involving the pension fund and former Controller Alan Hevesi. Last month, The News reported that a firm tied to Rattner distributed a DVD of a movie produced by the brother of a Hevesi aide. A Securities and Exchange Commission complaint says an executive with Rattner's Quadrangle Group paid $1 million to get more than $100 million in pension business. Sources identified the executive as Rattner. The complaint is part of a probe by the SEC and state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. It has led to the indictments of Hevesi's top political consultant, the fund's investment officer and ex- Liberal Party boss Ray Harding. A spokesman for the SEC declined comment. Rattner did not return calls for comment.