Kenneth Lewis, Bank of America's embattled chief executive, retained the backing of a top lieutenant on Friday, when investment bank and wealth management chief Brian Moynihan called him the right person to lead the nation's largest bank.

Moynihan, widely discussed as a possible candidate to replace Lewis eventually, called his 62-year-old boss the best man to lead the Charlotte, North Carolina-based bank out of its current difficulties.

Moynihan, who made the comments after delivering a speech in Boston, came to Bank of America through the FleetBoston Financial acquisition and replaced former Merrill Lynch chief John Thain in January. He rose through the ranks quickly and now oversees 80,000 employees.

Moynihan was careful to defer to his boss on when the bank may pay back its government loan and was cautious about details on how quickly his division will grow or when the bank may consider selling two of its units.

The bank's group of 16,000 financial advisers will expand, Moynihan said, adding, It has to be bigger than it is now. He declined to give any growth targets.

He was also mum on how quickly Bank of America may sell two businesses -- First Republic Bank, a San Francisco-based bank it acquired through Merrill Lynch, and Columbia Asset Management, which it picked up through its acquisition of FleetBoston Financial Corp.

While Moynihan called both units good assets, he said it was difficult to own them. Columbia competes directly with asset manager BlackRock Inc, which is part-owned by Bank of America. Speculation has mounted recently that deals may be imminent, especially after BlackRock surprised the industry with its decision to buy Barclays Global Investors to become the industry's biggest asset manager.

Investors have been keen to hear any details about the possible future of Lewis, who has been widely criticized for the bank's falling share price and its January 1 acquisition of Merrill Lynch & Co.

He is the right person for our company, Moynihan, president of global banking and wealth management, told reporters in response to a question.

Lewis has run Bank of America since 2001. Over the last two months, he has been stripped of his role as the bank's chairman, and more than one-third of his board of directors has departed.

Evidence that regulators may have wanted him out altogether surfaced on Thursday when a House of Representatives subcommittee released documents subpoenaed in connection with testimony of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke over Lewis' role in the Merrill merger.

Lewis has indicated that he may be willing to step aside by 2012, when he will turn 65.

Bank of America has taken $45 billion from the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program, and Lewis has suggested he would like to begin repaying the bailout money this year.

Moynihan deferred to Lewis when asked about how quickly the bank plans to send the money back. As you have heard Ken say, it will be months, not years.

(Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss, editing by Matthew Lewis)