By Marcy Wheeler. Cross posted from emptywheel
Remarkably, on the same day two Senators (one of them named in the article) reminded Eric Holder that Lanny Breuer said this,
I think I and prosecutors around the country, being responsible, should speak to regulators, should speak to experts, because if I bring a case against institution, and as a result of bringing that case, there’s some huge economic effect — if it creates a ripple effect so that suddenly, counterparties and other financial institutions or other companies that had nothing to do with this are affected badly — it’s a factor we need to know and understand.
The WaPo managed to ask no direct questions about this quote–or some of the obviously spiked cases against big banks–in this sloppy fellation of Lanny Breuer.
Granted it does ask about the Frontline show itself (though, refreshing as it was, Frontline focused on just one aspect of the mortgage fraud that Lanny’s department ignored; it’s pretty clear WaPo’s Sari Horwitz doesn’t even begin to understand that, though).
In a “Frontline” program on PBS last week, Breuer and the Justice Department were harshly criticized for not bringing criminal prosecutions against any Wall Street executives in connection with the 2008 financial collapse.
Curiously, rather than admit he consults with regulators and experts before he charges banksters, rather than repeat his theory that all it takes to deter CEOs (as opposed to little people) is to chat them up,
Look, I want to be clear, I don’t want to suggest for a moment that we don’t–and we will–aggressively pursue cases criminally but, I guess both as a defense lawyer, which I was for many years, a white collar defense lawyer and now as AAG, I don’t think we should completely discount the deterrent effect when we investigate cases even if we don’t bring them.
If a CEO or CFO of a major institution feels that he or she is subject to criminal liability, when we interview them or put them in the grand jury, they have lawyers and this is hanging over their head for years and years. It may be at the end we decide not to prosecute the company or the individual but I think it’s really inaccurate to suggest that that doesn’t have a very strong effect. I’m not sure CEOs on Wall Street right now feel as if they can do what they want and there’s no deterrence.
Lanny instead adopted a new excuse to deny responsibility for letting the most destructive criminals in the country walk free (note, Lanny appears to be ignorant of SarBox regulations that wouldn’t even require this kind of intent):
“I understand why people are upset,” Breuer said. “But we have 94 U.S. attorneys and they don’t report to me. Not one of them determined that there was a criminal case to be had. These are very complicated cases and they were just simply, on the merits, not cases that could be brought criminally.”
Breuer said Wall Street executives would have been prosecuted if the investigators could have proved criminal intent. “I have the same DNA in all of these cases,” Breuer said. “It’s just not plausible that in one area we would be overly scared and in all the other areas we would be aggressive.”
Well okay then. In this article, Lanny takes or is given credit for the BP pleas, two Medicare cases, 40 corporate cases (by Robert Khuzami, almost all of which resulted in settlements), the La Cosa Nostra take down, and LIBOR “prosecutions” (reportedly DOJ will charge UBS shortly). Of those, I’m only aware of the BP investigation being led by a task force rather than a traditional US Attorney structure. Yet Lanny wants to claim credit for all these prosecutions and settlements, but blame his US Attorneys–all 94 US Attorneys (!) when we’re really talking maybe 4 or 5 who would face a complex bankster case, and really just New York’s Preet Bharara, whom Lanny himself gave jurisdiction over some of the highest profile cases–for not prosecuting the banksters.
It’s not Lanny’s fault the banksters have gone free, you see, it’s the fault of people like John Leonardo, Arizona’s US Attorney, Alicia Limtiaco, Guam’s US Attorney, or Felicia Adams, Northern Mississippi’s US Attorney, all of whom had no hint of jurisdiction in these cases.
This, in spite of the fact that Lanny has repeatedly admitted being personally involved in the bankster cases.
This, in spite of the fact that Lanny did play a leadership role in one of the few cases that had a similar task force structure as BP–the mortgage fraud settlement. In that case, Lanny under-resourced the investigative team, ensuring it would be unable to do adequate investigation to reach adequate settlement. And he didn’t even show up for the big announcement that–basically–the settlement was immunizing the banksters for stealing millions of people’s homes. Somehow, now that it’s time to claim credit, Lanny has forgotten about that willful attempt to help banks bury their crimes.
Lanny has, in the past, clearly admitted to actions that led directly to amnesty for banksters. But in his effort to shore up his reputation as he heads out the door (though not until March 1, unfortunately), he’s gonna blame everyone else for the fact that, on his watch, the most destructive criminals in the country got a pass.
Why would Lanny Breuer prosecute banksters? His higher ups didn’t want banksters prosecuted. Not Eric Holder. Not Barak Obama. This Administration is running the biggest protection racquet we’ve ever seen. Obama and Geithner are the architects of the biggest financial coverup in the nation’s history.
“Why would Lanny Breuer prosecute banksters?”
1) Because he took an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution, not cover his bosses ass.
2) Ever hear of Archibald Cox?
3) He wouldn’t. He was looking forward to his 7-figure salary as GS’ new senior counsel.
Look, I agree with your sentiment – the fish rots from the head. But we won’t gain any traction by attacking Obama directly while he has an army of sycophants protecting his discretion. Be proud of Marcy and others – they’ve bagged one. You go girl! I really am dying to hear whether Frontline is going to continue to beat this drum.
Oaths to defend The Constitution are nothing but lip service. Why bother bringing it up when it means absolutely nothing to them personally or legally.
Mary is not attacking Obama. She is merely speaking the truth that the coverup adorned with zero FBI investigation, zero indictments and zero prosecutions could have come only from the White House, probably at the heated urging of the bankster mole who headed the Treasury, the rat Geithner.
Lanny is not that dumb to walk into an interview like that. He had an agenda given to him by the powers that be………..he was floating an explanation to see if the public would swallow it…………………” I think I and prosecutors around the country, being responsible, should speak to regulators, should speak to experts, because if I bring a case against institution, and as a result of bringing that case, there’s some huge economic effect — if it creates a ripple effect so that suddenly, counterparties and other financial institutions or other companies that had nothing to do with this are affected badly — it’s a factor we need to know and understand.”
The reaction of the public was swift which left his Lanny’s head vulnerable and hence the step down.
The first line is very telling:
“I think I and prosecutors around the country, being responsible, should speak to regulators, should speak to experts, because if I bring a case against institution, and as a result of bringing that case, there’s some huge economic effect — if it creates a ripple effect so that suddenly, counterparties and other financial institutions or other companies that had nothing to do with this are affected badly — it’s a factor we need to know and understand.”
How many times has an attorney looked at a case and said to you, “look – this guy has no money and even if you win he’d probably bankrupt the judgment and the debt”? Lanny and the administration know that these banks are insolvent – and it is their job to shut the banks down and take them over. And yes, it will have a ripple effect – but like Iceland, we will survive and recover.
It’s hard, however, to do the right thing when it means it will likely ruin your retirement as the politicians and the judiciary are so heavily invested in Wall Street.
Government man, “I’m from the govenment and I’m here to help.”
Citizen, “We’ve had all the help we can stand.”
The other huge hurdle for a prosecutor weighing a run through the gauntlet for justice: the judge. And so, even if you try to win, you suspect you simply won’t be allowed to. And even if you win round one, it goes through appeals and you lose. (Has anyone ever read Bush vs. Gore? Or Citizens United? The fraud is obvious.) Every angle has been analyzed by our owners’ class of game theorists and poker players. They have ensured that the house always wins and imagine that history itself has been outthought. And then there’s the corporate media…
Corporate culture as well as the culture of a beauracracy (in this case the DOJ) can at times be established from the top down. If 94 appointed US Attorneys (or the 4 or 5 with clear jurisdiction assuming that is eeven true) fail to request permission to prosecute senior players across an entire industry rife with fraud, its because they know they are not supposed to make a such a request.
Breuer’s comments are interesting not just because they are foolish. He seems racked with guilt leading him to make indefensible arguments. I’m no defender of Breuer but he, like the US attorneys who have failed to even attempt to begin an investigation of the players that caused the recession, may have all arrived in their posts with the idea they would aggressively pursue all white collar crime (yes its even a possibility for Breuer though I can’t say for sure obviously). And when one of them floated the idea of an investigation into the financial collapse were told “sit down and shut up.”
So why am I not adhering to the idea that Breuer and the other “evil” US Attorneys are simply under the banksters’ spell? Because when we do this we are playing into the “diffusion of guilt so no one person is guilty” meme. Or even more elementally, “Obama should of but didn’t actually know what DOJ was (not) doing so he is merely guilty of negligence.”
Obama does not want his DOJ prosecuting these cases. The administration and the fed are working extremely hard ensuring that the financial system survives the downturn (and thrives via a parasytic model in the meantime). Prosecutions would be counterproductive.
I don’t at all buy the argument that prosecutions would be systemically disruptive. Quite the opposite – they would restore confidence in the markets. They would only be disruptive if there was no mechanism for the continuation of their core functions. There is no reason why the CEO’s and upper chain of command could not be held accountable while protecting core banking functions.
This is being used as a rationalization for blanket amnesty.
If, as you say, the administration and the fed are working so hard to see that the financial system survives the downturn, then why are the TBTF banks now even bigger? Why no regulation of CDO’s. Why no beefing up of the SEC or regulatory oversight? It’s not just that there have been no big name prosecutions, the WHOLE THING HAS JUST BEEN PAPERED OVER.
Yes. As usual, the official line (excuse) is exactly the opposite of what *would* (objectively) be salutary.
This guy is a true psychopath.
But what else is he going to do? Admit he is a cleaner for the banking industry?
I’d say we might as well give up on justice but these CEO’s can’t stop breaking the law.
The DOJ sets the tone. Furthermore he appears to have undermined state attorney generals which is worse than inaction.
If you follow the link in Marcy’s post you get the actual Senate Press Release announcing Sens. Grassley’s and Brown’s request for answers from DOJ in light of the The Untouchables. Thanks Marcy for letting us know.
Here are the questions, which I thought well worth posting:
Sens. Brown, Grassley Press Justice Department On “Too Big To Jail”
Senators Question Whether “Too Big to Fail” Status of Some Wall Street Megabanks Undermines Government’s Ability to Prosecute Large Financial Institutions, Impose Appropriate Penalties
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) sent a letter today to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder questioning whether the “too big to fail” status of certain Wall Street megabanks undermines the ability of the federal government to prosecute wrongdoing and impose appropriate penalties. They also requested that the Justice Department disclose the identities of parties with whom prosecutors consult about the appropriate level of penalties for financial institutions.
“Wall Street megabanks aren’t just too big to fail, they’re increasingly too big to jail,” Brown said. “Already, the nation’s six largest megabanks enjoy what amounts to taxpayer-funded guarantee by virtue of their size, making it harder for regional and community banks to compete. Now, these megabanks may also enjoy some impunity when they violate the law by laundering money or illegally foreclosing on homeowners. Wall Street should pay the full price of its wrongdoing, not pass the costs along to taxpayers.”
“The best deterrent to crime is to put people in prison,” Grassley said. “That includes those at powerful banks and corporations. Unfortunately, we’ve seen little willingness to charge these individuals criminally. The public deserves an explanation of how the Justice Department arrives at these decisions.”
Brown, who chairs the Senate Banking Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection, is the author the Safe, Accountable, Fair & Efficient (SAFE) Banking Act, legislation that would prevent any one financial institution from becoming so large and overleveraged that its collapse could put our economy on the brink of collapse or trigger the need for a federal bailout. He also passed legislation with Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) to requiring the Government Accountability Office to study how banks with assets of $500 billion or more benefit from the belief that the government would not let them fail in a crisis.
As Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee, Grassley has been critical of the Justice Department’s decisions against holding people criminally accountable in financial cases. He called the Justice Department’s decision to forego any criminal prosecution of HSBC officials involved in that money laundering scandal inexcusable. And he has questioned the Justice Department about the number of mortgage fraud cases brought forward, revealing a failure to bring significant criminal cases against any of the major banks or financial institutions that have faced civil actions for various frauds. Grassley is the author of the Fraud Enforcement Recovery Act, signed into law in 2009, that was designed to ramp up the government’s response to the crisis and ensure that prosecutors and investigators had the tools needed to combat fraud.
The full text of the letter from Brown and Grassley to Holder can be found below.
January 29, 2013
The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr.
United States Attorney General
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20530
Dear Attorney General Holder:
The large number of private and government lawsuits since the global financial crisis continues to undermine public confidence in our financial markets. This confidence can only be restored by demonstrating that there are consistent rules in place that provide accountability for wrongdoing and deter financial predators.
Unfortunately, many of the settlements between large financial institutions and the federal government involve penalties that are disproportionately low, both in relation to the profits which resulted from those wrongful actions as well as in relation to the costs imposed upon consumers, investors, and the market.
The nature of these settlements has fostered concerns that “too big to fail” Wall Street banks enjoy a favored status, in statute and in enforcement policy. This perception undermines the public’s confidence in our institutions and in the principal that the law is applied equally in all cases.
On settling with Swiss Bank UBS for Libor manipulation, for example, you said, “[t]he impact on the stability of the financial markets around the world is something we take into consideration. We reach out to experts outside of the Justice Department to talk about what are the consequences of actions that we might take, what would be the impact of those actions if we want to make particular prosecutive decisions or determinations with regard to a particular institution.”
In an interview with Frontline, outgoing Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer defended the Department of Justice’s inability to prosecute large financial institutions by saying, “but in any given case, I think I and prosecutors around the country, being responsible, should speak to regulators, should speak to experts, because if I bring a case against institution, and as a result of bringing that case, there’s some huge economic effect — if it creates a ripple effect so that suddenly, counterparties and other financial institutions or other companies that had nothing to do with this are affected badly — it’s a factor we need to know and understand.”
These statements raise important questions about the Justice Department’s prosecutorial philosophy. In order to explore the Justice Department’s treatment of potential criminal activity by large financial institutions, please answer the following questions and provide the following information:
1. Has the Justice Department designated certain institutions whose failure could jeopardize the stability of the financial markets and are thus, “too big to jail”? If so, please name them.
2. Has the Justice Department ever failed to bring a prosecution against an institution due to concern that their failure could jeopardize financial markets?
3. Are there any entities the Justice Department has entered into settlements with, in which the amount of the settlement reflected a concern that markets could be impacted by such a settlement? If so, for which entities?
4. Please provide the names of all outside experts consulted by the Justice Department in making prosecutorial decisions regarding financial institutions with over $1 billion in assets.
5. Please provide any compensation contracts for these individuals.
6. How did DOJ ensure that these experts provided unconflicted and unbiased advice to DOJ?
Our markets will only function efficiently if participants believe that all laws will be enforced consistently, and that violators will be punished to the fullest extent of the law. There should not be one set of rules that apply to Wall Street and another set for the rest of us.
Thank you for your cooperation and attention in this matter. We would appreciate a response by February 8, 2013. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Graham Steele for Senator Brown at (202) 224-2315 or Chris Lucas for Ranking Member Grassley at (202) 224-5225.
Sherrod Brown Charles E. Grassley
Chairman Ranking Member
Banking Committee, Judiciary Committee
Subcommittee on Financial Institutions
and Consumer Protection
Notice the date of the press release — January 29, 2013 — and the fact that we are now on DAY NINE of the Total Media Blackout on the “Departure” of Lanny Breuer from DOJ.
Thanks for posting. Wouldn’t you expect these questions to be asked in a hearing, under oath?
We can only hope that hearings will follow …
Pay special note to question 4– I wonder who the contractors were– Promontory?
Or some differently named outfit that is owned and staffed by the exact same people at Promontory. There must be at least … half a dozen of those, right?
I do wonder what’s the basis for the question — does the Senate have information that DOJ used *consultants* to “help” DOJ decide who to prosecute? That would be interesting, to say the least. Or maybe they just mean “former employers of high level DOJ people (Covington Burling) and big donors to Obama (Corzine, GS, etc.)
Thanks Ms G, for critical questions, even if they are only for theater-audience consumption. We eagerly await Eric Place-Holder’s response on February 8.
The ubiquitous term “too big to fail”, used here and everywhere, is troublesome. Used so universally and uncritically, it inevitably cedes the argument to the banksters, who cleverly planted it in the first place and now use it, by association, to preemptively immunize themselves as “too big to jail”. But while banks may be too systemically important to fail outright, they are most emphatically not too big to nationalize, which should have been done with every single bankrupt Wall Street firm, put under scrupulous public management — while the swindlers and financial terrorists that looted them were thrown in Gitmo without trial. (Too harsh? It beats lamposts and guillotines.)
“Words and meaning have parted company” as Orwell once said, so this is critical. TBTF seems to automatically preclude the imminently-logical alternative of public receivership, while at the same time making the malefactors themselves somehow “untouchable”, giving them a get-out-of-jail-free card rather than a direct flight to Gitmo. While corporate “persons” may be too big to jail, their purportedly-human leaders are most certainly not. If we repeat the term TBTF at all we should at least always pre-fix it with the word “supposedly”. Better yet we should come up with a useful alternative, something more accurate than “too big to exist”, which instantly severs the banksters from any claim to immunity.
“… too big to exist”, which instantly severs the banksters from any claim to immunity. . .” Yes!
What you say about the insidous effect of the “tbtf” acronym (tidies the whole thing up and puts it to bed in a drawer) in masking the agency of the criminal acts committed by human (not corporate) persons and smoothly morphing into “tbtj” is incredibly important.
For the time being (as a placeholder — silly pun intended)I will tack on “supposedly” when someone mentions either of those two 4-letter acronyms!
As for federal receivership and unwinding — I agree too. And it is not too late to reconsider that option, particularly as the Free Foamy Dollars that we handed out no-strings-attached have apparently been put to use in preparing the next mass finance-caused human disaster.
… And while we’re at it (fixing what *really* needs to be fixed), it seems about time to outlaw securitizations of debt, with the same criminal penalties assigned by federal statutes to persons accused of terroristic activities. Because the securitization racket (as it exists) is a form of domestic terrorism.
A couple of things. First, just after Obama was elected in 2008, the NY USA issued a massive job announcement for attorneys obviously in anticipation of a massive prosecution effort. The announcement disappeared without a trace before the inauguration. No register and no hires, presumably.
And the other thing is basic psychology, whether you are dealing with two-year-olds or businessmen. Once they learn that their repugnant behaviours are not going to be punished, they continue them. You can admonish them all you want but the behaviours will continue.
Re. the SDNY AUSA big job announcement. The recruiting ended up being done in Breuer’s “Taskforce” office instead of SDNY. (There’s a press release or similar – via Google – that trumpets the Great Hiring Binge — only the best and brightest, of course — into Breuer’s shiny new financial fraud taskforce.)
Ha ha. So on Jan 29 2013 Grassley and Sherrod are meekly sending written questions to DOJ seeking answers. So how many years since the crisis occurred? Possibly long enough for the statute of limitations to run. Written questions are meaningless, the responses will be obfuscation and irrelevance: “we have looked hi and low for criminals, prosecuted x number of wallstreet grunts, etc.” And the issue will be over and buried and Sherrod and Grassley will have achieved their purpose (some good PR).
The biggest scandal in modern history happened under Grassley’s and Sherrod’s watch and they can’t be bothered to hold a hearing and put holder, breuer, and any other US Attorney who could have indicted, have them take an oath and directly ask these prosecutors “who told you not to investigate?”
Better yet how about demanding the appointment of an independent counsel to investighate the miserable and biggest failure in DOJ’s history? The only path it would lead to would be Obama himself. Can’t have that. Lets send some written questions instead. And that subversive independent counsel law expired anyway.
The press aids for Grassley and Sherrod get an A+; the PR releases were quite good and it sounds like somebody is gonna get some answers finally. Te he.
All fair points.
Lanny Breuer: “If a CEO or CFO of a major institution feels that he or she is subject to criminal liability, when we interview them or put them in the grand jury, they have lawyers and this is hanging over their head for years and years.”
Mr. Breuer: I have many family members and close friends whose lives have been ruined by the actions of these corporate criminals and our government’s utter failure to deal with them. The innocent of whom I speak have lost everything, through no fault of their own. The middle class neighborhood where I live has been destroyed.
Do not expect understanding and empathy from me. You and your criminal cronies won’t get it.
Yes, Lanny really was scraping the bottom of the defensive barrel with: “and this is hanging over their head for years and years.” How many people doing hard time in Federal prisons would rather have had the option of having “this [a DOJ ‘investigation’ of their conduct, instead of a prosecution of their conduct’] hanging over their head for years and years.”
My guess is that the men and women doing hard time for small fry financial frauds weren’t given the “investigation hanging over your head” option.
You know what tens of thousands of wronged homeowners wish they had ‘hanging over their heads’? A ROOF.
its so hard to get good help nowadays….
…sloppy fellation…Yves, you’re making me blush!
er…I mean Marcy.
Freud didn’t wear slips.
Lincoln was the Great Emancipator. Obama is the Great Vaccinator…he immunizes everybody (who counts. If you have to ask who counts, you don’t.)
“Catch-22 says they can do anything we can’t stop them from doing.”
Remember all through the 80s we were told that the country needed to be run like a business? This is what comes of that.
And NYC has gotten the “treatment” in spades with 12 years of Wanna Be Draghi Bloomberg.
Kudos to the Field Marshall! The world looks upon USA as just “a business”.
Jon Corzine, Obama’s key bribe bundler in the ’08 campaign, was given a virtual pardon for manifest fraud at MF Gobal — stark corroboration of this post and strong evidence of White House racketeering and obstruction of justice. Corzine, after countermanding MF’s risk manager at least three times and then sidelining him while strong-arming the board into making outrageously risky bets, was actively involved in the shuffling of customer funds. From Bloomberg:
“Congress Damns Corzine but Lets Him Off the Hook” – William Cohan
Bingo! It’s another slam-dunk, smoking-gun, bloody-hands SarbOx case deliberately obstructed by an illegitimate, criminal adminsitration. And the same applies to war crimes, a case for capital punishment.
A case for IMPEACHMENT.
The non-prosecution of Corzine still makes me apoplectic. And I didn’t even have an account with MF Global, or any other financial house.
I would think Sen Ted Kaufman would have held Lanny Breuer in contempt of Congress or something, for his failure to act on the information provided through the hearings. It was pretty clear Breuer didn’t even perform one investigation.
He could have but he didn’t.
The banksters have gone free because the government is completely corrupt. And this is the same government that you freaks want to empower to unlimited amounts of fiat currency and steal our second amdendment rights.
So not only does the NC acknowledge that we have a corrupt and duplicitous government, but also, incidentally, wants to root out the People’s ability to defend themselves from it. In a way, that’s probably even more evil than what the MSM does.
Time for a glass of milk and a nap.
They already create unlimited amounts of fiat currency… for themselves. And then they lie about it to confuse people.
And you’re calling us out for exposing the lie? Go to your room.
If you think you can shoot your way out of this, well, good luck…
The sentence of Lanny Breuer containing: “if I bring a case…” seems to suggest that sometimes, it’s better not to bring a case (if there was an economic ripple effect, etc.).
The only ripple effect we’ll see is when Breuer takes a Wall Street job and a chilling effect descends over Justice where every US Attorney knows the choice is between excoriation and personal destruction or playing ball and getting taken care of afterwards.
Interesting shameless (rather unconscious) acknowledgement of the bifarcation of justice between white collar and blue collar crime.
Has any prosecutor, ever, anywhere, ever, pulled thier punches on charges because the accused had a job, kids, mortgage…?
Has any prosecutor ever paused and wondered what this charge will do in terms of downstream ripples? No, emphatically, no.
On the contrary, we are in an era of prosecutorial piling-on, where getting a DUI with a kid in the car leads to a child abuse charge, and prosecutors dream up every sort of charge they can imagine to fatten the file and overwelm the poor sack who fell into their lair.
It is true that judges will occasionally take subjective factors into consideration at sentencing. At sentencing. That’s the JUDGE’S job.
But only with corporate crime do prosecutors censor themselves before even convening a grand jury.
Lest we forget, Obama was on the Leno show, a scant two months after his 2009 inauguration, stating that the banks had committed no crimes. Oddly enough, Obama had conducted absolutely no investigation to reach that conclusion.
Lest we forget indeed!
No investigations prior to conclusions needed anymore when simply asserting the desired results is all that is required.