AIG head compares bonus outrage to lynch mobs

Those comments quickly attracted criticism, including demands that the insurance company disavow those statements.

"Simply outrageous. AIG should disavow statement now," said Benjamin Lawsky, New York's top financial regulator, on Twitter.

AIG came under fire during the financial crisis for the roughly $175 million in bonuses it paid to employees after receiving over $170 billion in federal support. 

Benmosche argued to the Journal that the anger over the bonuses amounted to "ignorance … of the public at large" about how employees in the financial sector are paid. While bonuses typically represent compensation above and beyond regular pay, oftentimes workers in the financial sector receive yearly bonuses that represent a substantial portion of their earnings.

"It is core compensation," he said, adding, "They aren't going to stay there for nothing."

The decision to pay out the bonuses earned a raft of recriminations from all corners of Washington. President Obama expressed disdain, saying, "How do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat?"

The House went so far as to pass legislation that would impose a 90 percent tax on bonuses paid by corporations receiving a significant amount of bailout money, by a vote of 328 to 98.

Benmosche was tapped to take over AIG by the Treasury Department after the bailout. The insurance company exited from federal support in December 2012, after the Treasury sold its final shares in the company's stock. The government expected to turn a $22.7 billion profit on the rescue.