Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Banks: Too big to jail?

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David Sirota has an interesting review of the PBS Frontline show that points out the way the Obama Administration has undermined the law:

PBS Frontline’s stunning report last night on why the Obama administration has refused to prosecute any Wall Streeter involved in the financial meltdown doesn’t just implicitly indict a political and financial press that utterly abdicated its responsibility to cover such questions. It also — and as importantly — exposes the genuinely radical jurisprudential ideology that Wall Street campaign contributors have baked into America’s “justice” system. Indeed, after watching the piece, you will understand that the word “justice” belongs in quotes thanks to an Obama administration that has made a mockery of the name of a once hallowed executive department.

The Frontline report is titled “The Untouchables,” a tongue-in-cheek salute to how that term once referred to those heroes who fought organized crime and yet now appropriately describes those doing the criminal organizing. Rooted in historical comparison, it contrasts how the Reagan administration prosecuted thousands of bankers after the now-quaint-looking S&L scandal with how the Obama administration betrayed the president’s explicit promise to “hold Wall Street accountable” and refused to prosecute a single banker connected to 2008′s apocalyptic financial meltdown.

The piece by PBS reporter Martin Smith looks at how Obama has driven federal prosecutions of financial crimes down to a two-decade low. It also documents the rampant and calculated mortgage securities fraud perpetrated by the major Wall Street banks, who, not coincidentally, were using some of the profits they made to become among President Obama’s biggest campaign donors.

As we see, that campaign money didn’t just buy massive government bailouts of the banks, a pathetically weak Wall Street “reform” bill or explicit reassurances from Obama’s campaign that the president would refrain from criticizing bankers. Frontline shows it also bought a Too Big to Jail ideology publicly championed by the white-collar defense lawyer turned Obama prosecutor Lanny Breuer.

In the single most damning part of the PBS report, we learn that

Breuer, fresh off a lucrative stint defending Moody’s and Halliburton, was appointed by President Obama to head the Justice Department’s criminal enforcement division and was soon sculpting this unprecedented ideology and embedding it into the department’s mission. As Frontline shows, he bragged to his colleagues in the legal profession that as the United States government’s chief criminal prosecutor, he is not primarily worried about lawbreaking in the financial world, but about whether prosecuting financial crime will harm the criminals, their accomplices and their industry.

As this excerpt from Breuer’s 2012 speech to the New York City Bar Association shows, that characterization of Breuer’s declarations is not an overstatement (emphasis added):

To be clear, the decision of whether to indict a corporation, defer prosecution, or decline altogether is not one that I, or anyone in the Criminal Division, take lightly.We are frequently on the receiving end of presentations from defense counsel, CEOs, and economists who argue that the collateral consequences of an indictment would be devastating for their client. In my conference room, over the years, I have heard sober predictions that a company or bank might fail if we indict, that innocent employees could lose their jobs, that entire industries may be affected, and even that global markets will feel the effects.

In reaching every charging decision, we must take into account the effect of an indictment on innocent employees and shareholders, just as we must take into account the nature of the crimes committed and the pervasiveness of the misconduct.

I personally feel that it’s my duty to consider whether individual employees with no responsibility for, or knowledge of, misconduct committed by others in the same company are going to lose their livelihood if we indict the corporation. In large multi-national companies, the jobs of tens of thousands of employees can be at stake. And, in some cases, the health of an industry or the markets are a real factor. Those are the kinds of considerations in white collar crime cases thatliterally keep me up at night, and which must play a role in responsible enforcement.

Save for the intrepid Marcy Wheeler and now Frontline, this speech received almost no news media attention despite being arguably one of the most important statements to come from a top law enforcement official in recent history. . .

Continue reading.

UPDATE: Wow! That was fast. Pam Martens at Wall Street on Parade has this post:

The Washington Post is reporting this afternoon that Lanny Breuer, head of the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and the focus of a damaging report by producer Martin Smith for the PBS program, Frontline, that aired last evening, is stepping down from his post.

The portion of the program that likely garvanized the White House was the startling report by prosecutors that had worked under Breuer in the criminal division of the DOJ that there wasn’t even a pretense of a real investigation against the major Wall Street firms: no subpoenas, no document reviews, no wiretaps.

Following is the verbatim transcript of that portion of the program:

NARRATOR:Frontline spoke to two former high-level Justice Department prosecutors who served in the Criminal Division under Lanny Breuer. In their opinion, Breuer was overly fearful of losing.

MARTIN SMITH: We spoke to a couple of sources from within the Criminal Division, and they reported that when it came to Wall Street, there were no investigations going on. There were no subpoenas, no document reviews, no wiretaps.

LANNY BREUER: Well, I don’t know who you spoke with because we have looked hard at the very types of matters that you’re talking about.

MARTIN SMITH: These sources said that at the weekly indictment approval meetings that there was no case ever mentioned that was even close to indicting Wall Street for financial crimes.

Read our morning coverage of the Frontline program here, which looks at the scandalous past of the law firm, Covington & Burling, whose former partners, including Breuer and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, hold three top posts at the U.S. Department of Justice.

Also see this post by Pam Martens.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 January 2013 at 2:17 pm

One Response

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  1. It seems like Jenga, where extricating a single bottom plank can destroy a towering edifice. I understand that some bad actors will escape, perhaps most, but I am most unhappy with the fact that between little and nothing has been done to prevent a repeat. I am still angry with Lloyd Blankfein-type attitudes that these guys are “doing God’s work” in any way. They still think of themselves as “masters of the universe” I suppose, but I think “universe” is the wrong word.

    bill bush

    23 January 2013 at 3:30 pm


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