William R. Black on Prosecuting Criminal Banker CEOs: Obama and Holder Don’t Even Care Enough to Fake It

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bill Black gives a fine and focused interview, with Sharmina Peries, Executive Producer at TRNN.

More at The Real News

It’s all good, but this passage in particular caught my eye:

BLACK: [E]ric Holder has surprised me. I always predicted that he would at least find one token case to prosecute some bank senior executive for crimes that led to the creation of the financial crisis and the global Great Recession.

PERIES: Why did it surprise you, Bill?

BLACK: Well, he’s actually going to leave without even a token conviction, or even a token effort at convicting. So, in baseball terms, he struck out every time, batting 0.000, but he actually never took a swing. ….

Yep. You don’t bat zero for the season without a plan. (And that goes for a lot of what the administration does, or does not do, if you think about it.) So Bill Black wasn’t cynical enough!

[BLACK: ]And I couldn’t believe that he would leave without at least having one attempted prosecution against these folks. So he hasn’t done the most–he never did the most elementary things required to succeed [for some definition of success –lambert]. He never reestablished the criminal referral process, which is from the banking regulatory agencies, who are the only ones who are going to do widescale criminal referrals against bank CEOs, because, of course, banks won’t make criminal referrals against their own CEOs. Holder could have reestablished that criminal referral process in a single email on the first day in office to his counterparts in the banking regulatory agencies, and he’s going to leave never having attempted to do so.

And now to the whistleblowers, perhaps even more vicious and reprehensible than the administrations refusal to prosecute banker CEOs for accounting control fraud, because the message it sends is that even if you see your company or agency controlled by criminals, you’ll get no help from government:

[BLACK: ]On top of that, if you’re not going to have criminal referrals from the agencies, the only other conceivable way that you’re going to learn about elite criminal misconduct of this kind is through whistleblowers. And as you mentioned, this administration, and Eric Holder in particular, are known for the viciousness of their war against whistleblowers. What the public doesn’t know–and it doesn’t know because of Eric Holder–is that in the three biggest cases involving banks–again, none of them, not a single prosecution of the elite bankers that drove this crisis–all three of those cases, against Citicorp, against JPMorgan, and against Bank of America, were made possible by whistleblowers. Eric Holder was the czar at the Department of Justice press conferences in each of these three cases, and he and the Justice Department officials, the senior Justice Department officials, at those press conferences, never mentioned the role of the whistleblowers–never praised the whistleblowers and never used those press conferences as a forum for asking whistleblowers to come forward. And so your viewers should take a look at the Frontline special on this, where the Frontline producers made clear that as soon as word got out that they were investigating the area, dozens of whistleblowers came forward, and each of them had the same story: the Department of Justice had never contacted them.

So, instead of going after the big guys–by the way, they didn’t go after the small CEOs either. I keep talking about elite CEOs, for obvious reasons: they cause far greater damage. But there are all these CEOs of the not very big mortgage banks who are not prestigious, who are not politically powerful, and Eric Holder refused to prosecute them as well.


If you’re a CEO, you have impunity. Case closed! Simon Johnson made the right call, lo these many years ago.

UPDATE I forgot, or repressed, this part:

PERIES: Well, Bill, who is likely to be appointed as the attorney general next?

BLACK: No one better.

Perhaps Holder’s crusading deputy, um…. Um…. Um….

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. readerOfTeaLeaves

    Back when John Ashcroft was AG, I thought things couldn’t get much worse.
    But Eric Holder makes John Ashcroft look like an upstanding, fine AG.

      1. Mark P.

        [2] As for Holder, why bother to feign outrage at his failure to prosecute financial criminals?

        From being the bag man when financial criminal Marc Rich bought his pardon from Bill Clinton —


        — to his activities at Washington white-shoe law firm Covington & Burling, where he was central in producing the legal rationalizations and documents that enabled the implementation of the whole MERS con on behalf of such clients of the firm as the four largest U.S. banks Bank of America, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo & Co —


        — Eric Holder himself has a long history as one of the era’s most notable, successful financial criminals.

        Fairly obviously, putting a figure like Holder in as AG was probably the number-one item on the to-do list Wall Street gave Obama when they put that empty shirt in the White House.

        1. ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®©

          Mark P., don’t forget Chiquita and their murdering paramilitaries in Colombia, AUC:

          Holder, Chiquita and Colombia

          In 2003, an Organization of American States report showed that Chiquita’s subsidiary in Colombia, Banadex, had helped divert weapons and ammunition, including thousands of AK-47s, from Nicaraguan government stocks to the AUC. The AUC – very often in collaboration with units of the U.S.-trained Armed Forces – is responsible for hundreds of massacres of primarily peasants throughout the Colombian countryside, including in the banana-growing region of Urabá, where it is believed that at least 4,000 people were killed. Their systematic use of violence resulted in the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of poor Colombians, a disproportionate amount of those people being black or indigenous.

          1. Ric Can

            it’s just unbelievable (not) – Chiquita self-discloses their illegal activities, tells Justice about the payments they’re making in direct violation of the law..and Eric Holder cries and moans why anyone dare hold them accountable for their actions – basically saying “they *told* us they’re crooks it isn’t that enough?”

          2. Ric Can

            it’s just unbelievable (not) – Chiquita self-discloses their illegal activities, tells Justice about the payments they’re making in direct violation of the law..and Eric Holder cries and moans why anyone dare hold them accountable for their actions – basically saying “they *told* us they’re crooks isn’t that enough?” I don’t have anything against lawyers defending their clients but he could’ve eased up on the righteous indignation a bit.

      2. optimader

        Indeed, Creepy.. but Ashcroft did have an internal set of ethics apparently. I give him points for not allowing them to steam roller him when he was very ill, allegedly at deaths door w/ jaundice as I recall. Gonzales was surely worse than Ashcroft, stooge that he was.
        Holder was at least as bad, probably worse than Gonzo because he is intelligent and evil.

    1. neo-realist

      I’ll say this for Holder, which is not to say that I defend his being out to lunch on financial looting, he had police departments investigated around the country and federal monitors in response to system wide brutality problems, particularly against people of color.

      An ethical Christian dinosaur like Ashcroft would never cite police departments for brutality against POC since it’s the republican party’s stock in trade to hate on them.

  2. Clive

    I never did buy the semi-official argument that we can’t prosecute bank executive wrongdoing because it might shoot the Confidence Fairy. Here is the UK, it’s even ‘fessed up to as a proper “risk” (e.g. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/banksandfinance/9743839/Banks-are-too-big-to-prosecute-says-FSAs-Andrew-Bailey.html) although nothing but endless handwringing ensues.

    No, I think it’s the revolving door — as is, no-one in the regulatory bodies wants to do anything which might put sand in its mechanism in case it jams on them when they want to go through it — pure and simple.

  3. abynormal

    imo, the crystal ball is clearing…more draconian laws will be lodged against us to hold these charades in tact. actually, arm police with tanks, FDA with submachine, school guards with grenade launchers, etc and ‘they’ can rule/hide with no amendments necessary.

    “The best that we can do is to be kindly and helpful toward our friends and fellow passengers who are clinging to the same speck of dirt while we are drifting side by side to our common doom”
    Clarence Darrow

  4. Skeptic

    Remember also that a Prosecutor can always take a dive and tank the case somewhere along the line. Then be rewarded by a revolving door sinecure or some political plum. Meanwhile, a gullible public sucks up the dog ‘n pony show. Numerous ways to game the Rule Of Law.

  5. proximity1

    Q. Shall Obama appoint a replacement for Holder or just leave A.G. position vacant–and, from an existential point of view, is there a difference in the two?

    1. timbers

      Appoint a replacement. I nominate Sarah Palin. If we have to have bad policy, at least we should be entertained.

      The greatest loss to comedy in the world is not having Sarah Palin in the White House. It could have been the basis for an updated new TV series of the old Beverly Hill Billies.

    2. RUKidding

      Good Q. I posit that leaving the position of AG vacant would less harmful than appointing another bag man/woman. BC you know if someone else is appointed, it’ll be: meet the new boss, same as the old boss (or worse).

  6. Rodger Malcolm Mitchell

    There is one, and only one, solution: Federal ownership of banks. See: http://goo.gl/XvtFEB
    Large, privately owned banks are a curse. Their size, their control over vast amounts of money, combined with their profit motive, makes them ungovernable and their criminality inevitable.

    And that is why the federal government should own all banks, especially large banks..
    Remove the profit motive and you remove the bribery of the politicians and their stooges.

    1. Skippy

      Wellie Rodger then that leaves large cap corps issuing equity, don’t it, still with the current batch of silly buggers in DC its like handing the keys to a drunk, rather than the drunk abusing everyone including the cab driver – on the way home. Don’t want to talk about what happens once they go through the front door… eh.

      Skippy… the motive approach, from a historical vantage point it seems to necessitate public tribal retribution. Something about trust, social justice, and fairness, if’en people can be red misted for standing in the wrong proximity to others or gun down in broad daylight in an orgasmic trigger session, whats the rub with playing tennis in funny attire, considering the options.

  7. Banger

    The 2008 crisis was an example of Naomi Klein’s disaster capitalism meme–certain finance oligarchs used the crisis to stage at least a partial coup. Part of the terms were that they would not crash the financial sector if the government met certain demands and one of them was that there would be no prosecutions even token ones. Why no tokens? Simply because the oligarchs wanted to signal to the world their power to other powerful cliques. In exchange, btw, these oligarchs promised to police themselves by taking part in a scheme to collude to control markets at the first sign of a crisis and they would limit their piratical tactics. Fair enough don’t you think?

    1. Banger

      Readers might want to take a view of E.J. Dionne’s comparison between RFK and Holder in today’s WaPost, amazing stuff!

      1. RUKidding

        I don’t want to read the Dionne hackery, either, but let us not forget what happened to RFK. I’m sure Holder remembered THAT very clearly (not that he minds one whit being the crook for hire that he is).

    2. James Levy

      The question for me, and as an academic by trade it must be admitted that it is largely an academic question, is, was any of that ever actually verbally articulated? Does the system now run so smoothly (because its ideology and axioms are so ubiquitous among those allowed to hold any decision-making positions) that no such conversation need ever take place again? And what does that do for those who would expose and prosecute these people? How do you hunt down criminals who never leave a paper trail? How do you apportion blame when no actual content is conveyed in their emails and telephone conversations, because everything is understood and implicit so no one has to ever spell anything out, or even hint at the real reasons why things happen? Have we reached a point were everything our elites do is a form or unstated collusion? And how do you nail people like that?

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        By accepted definition, the criminals are the ones hunting down the criminals who are not criminals according to laws that can’t be seen or heard. So it doesn’t matter too much whether or not someone admits wrongdoing since wrongdoing is defined as rightdoing that can’t be challenged because it’s right. Whey would anyone say anything anyway since just thinking about it gives you a headache.

  8. Brooklin Bridge

    Mr. Black’s surprise or anger or shock is often rhetorical, that is, for the benefit of those listening or reading as much as for himself, not that there is anything wrong with it. In this particular case, Holder’s total failure to lift so much as a finger towards accountability, is a shallow surprise if one at all. It seems odd for a little over a second before one stumbles over the obvious and oh so familiar dark fact that we keep stumbling over; namely, as Lambert says, “it’s a feature, not a bug.” The Department of Justice is only a name now. An institution, yes, but one that’s in no way related to justice – only to empire.

    To prosecute even one small fish would undermine the whole premise that all that costly propaganda, all those wars, all the lying has been about for the last fifteen years; that nothing criminal took place, that corporate looting is the norm and the cost of doing business and if you challenge it, you loose what ever precarious scraps you somehow managed to squirrel away.

    Holder is the ultimate graduate of Tricky Dick’s hard school of knocks, what TPTB have been perfecting ever since; never, ever, EVER, EVER admit wrongdoing (redefine it first if you are sufficiently powerful) and you won’t get caught.

    1. Banger

      Part of the reason for not admitting wrongdoing is that it announces total domination. Getting caught and saying you didn’t do it shows you control reality. Much of what we see in the world politically both on a national and international scale is posturing and has nothing to do with what we could call reason. Just snarling, nips, barking, tail wags, whines, howling and so on.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        Agreed. The message becomes ever more clear. The DOJ is not for the purpose of protecting the people from corrupt financial institutions; but rather to protect those institutions from the people.

    2. RUKidding

      It cannot hurt to be repetitive in stating what is NOT obvious to so many citizens, who’ve been bamboozled and brainwashed in various ways. To those of who reads blogs like NC, Mr. Black’s article seems, uh, I don’t know… repetitive, at least. But *many* US citizens simply don’t get it; can’t connect the dots; whatever. So Kudos to Mr. Black for writing something clear and simple and to the point. Perhaps a few more citizens will finally have the penny drop. FWIW. Unsure where we go from here.

  9. TedWa

    Ignorance of the law is never an excuse in the eyes of the law, Holder should be prosecuted for his eyes wide shut leadership.

      1. wbgonne

        A “Made Man.” Perfect. That’s exactly what it’s like. Absolutely protected as long as you maintain omertà.

  10. wbgonne

    It is indeed telling that Obama/Holder didn’t even feel the need for token prosecutions. This, I think, is of a piece with Yves’ article today about the failure of the media. After all, who is going to hold politicians accountable if the press won’t? The voters? Without truthful information, which the media neither demands from the politicians nor presents to the public, voters are clueless. These so-called reporters should be called out and shamed. By name. Over and over.

  11. susan the other

    Bill Black’s final shot… it was administration policy and “Treasury was far worse than the AG,” was devastating. It forces us to look past Holder, the loyal scapegoat, to the entire system. Living on derivatives now. Treasury oversees the US treasury of derivatives. Since there’s no firewall between banking and the US government, since the US government is a privately owned and operated financial system, the whole silly thing collapses BECAUSE it is a privately owned and operated financial system. It’s more like the EZ that anyone as noticed. We also do not have a political pact, just a fake financial pact. With a disgusted and impoverished public waking up and learning about our “political leaders,” all the short-sighted goofball crooks have literally got no place to go. We should have Yannis Varoufakis analyze this. I wish we could begin to focus on how many decades it is going to take to create a functioning system.

    1. Banger

      We have a very well-functioning system such that it is immune to reform or to laws or regulations. The finance oligarchs own us–we live by their generosity and at their pleasure. As for changes–first we have to organize then we can talk about doing something–the system can only change if it is dismantled and rebuilt. It’s too late for reform, regulation or any of the rest of it. I have yet to hear a coherent method to achieve political reform–every door is closed–am I wrong?

      1. susan the other

        Every door is closed because we forgot to frame in any doors and windows. Our government is a veritable bunker. Doors? What doors? TINA. Etc. In terms of revolution, I like to think of what it means to revolt against nothing. The Wizard of Oz. All power resides in what is possible. And what is impossible. It is impossible for our financial system to continue much longer. It will change itself. The vacuum that is left is another question. I hope it is filled with sensible practical things. But I’ve got my worries because we are so addicted to gain and growth and profit and all the stuff that got us in this mess in the first place.

  12. Ulysses

    You are absolutely right that the system needs dismantling through a nonviolent, organize uprising of people who refuse to limit themselves to playing the two-party, rigged for the kleptocracy, game.

    As Chris Hedges recently observed:
    “Politics in the hands of the corporate state is anti-politics. It is designed to denigrate and destroy the values that make a liberal democracy and political participation possible. It is a cynical form of mass control. Corporate money has replaced the vote. Dissent is silenced or ignored. Political parties are Punch and Judy shows funded by corporate puppeteers. Universities, once the epicenter of social change, are corporate headquarters, flush with corporate money, government contracts and foundation grants. The commercial press, whose primary task is attracting advertising dollars, has become an arm of the entertainment industry. It offers news as vaudeville.
    Genuine political activity, the organizing work needed to protect citizens from the abuses of power, exists only on the margins of society. Politics in America has gone underground….
    There are groups on the front lines of economic, racial and environmental distress that are engaging in what Wolin and Tocqueville would describe as politics. They are not spectators. None of them is allied with a mainstream party or movement. Their voices are not heard on any of the major broadcast networks or in the mainstream press. They have little financial support. And their activists know that jail time comes with the job description. Any engagement in the actual political life of the nation will be through them….
    We must discredit and disrupt the system of faux politics that characterizes the corporate state. If we engage as citizens, rather than as spectators, if we reclaim politics, we might have a chance.”


    I might add that this is a slim chance, indeed, but better than no chance at all!

    1. Banger

      Hedges is going with the only thing he knows–just step out and do something or anything. I think he’s on the right track. Everything is fixed and rigged but if enough people resist first mentally then in small actions by doing things like speaking the truth even though most people run from it and living the truth rather than following the general attitudes of our culture of narcissism–eventually something will coalesce–we don’t know when or how. Personally, I believe we need a new moral philosophy in this society because this one clearly is broken and the cause of the rapid degeneration and corruption we’ve seen in recent decades.

      1. Glenn Condell

        Hope is not a strategy. And relentlessly limiting ourselves to ‘small actions’ seems self-defeating to me. Small and large actions can co-exist, and I would argue have to if things are to improve.

  13. phichibe

    Lambert (and Bill)

    Excellent comments. I’d only add what I regard as the most conspicuous illustration of the immunity that the top banksters feel they enjoy: Blythe Masters at JPMC. As cynical as I am, I was astounded when last year’s scandal of JPMC fixing, Enron-style, the energy futures markets featured none other than Ms. Masters, who figured so prominently in the CDS chapter of the Crash of 08. Had there been *any* fear of prosecution I would assume Masters would have taken her ill-gotten gains and slunk off to a Caribbean island of her choice back in 2009; instead, she masterminds an out-and-out criminal conspiracy in 2011-2013.

    And JPMC couldn’t bring themselves to fire her after that? Small wonder. It’s a criminal conspiracy from the top on down but it’s profitable.

  14. TedWa

    I’d go so far as to call Holder a traitor, but he, like everyone of the elites knows, including Obama, that it’s the winners that write the history. They certainly plan on winning at our expense. More war = less freedoms and more austerity. The squeeze is on and at this rate the democratic cause won’t even get a footnote in the history books. How long will it take? Hopefully not till after I’m long gone.
    I’m only going to vote for Warren, Sanders or Green Party. The DC midnight special train hasn’t caught their hearts and minds yet.

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