Last December, I wrote a post titled You Call This Justice? DOJ Criticized for Its Settlement with “Too Big to Jail” Bank HSBC. It appears that the US Justice Department isn’t too keen on bringing criminal charges against ANY wealthy bankers—not just those who work for HSBC, a huge international bank that has knowingly laundered money for drug cartels and murderers. The unethical shenanigans of the banksters of Wall Street that led to the near collapse of the US economy and to a recession don’t seem to merit jail time for the perpetrators—just a slap on the wrist and a fine. No individual fines are paid though. The mega banks pay the fines and the banksters continue to go about their business…and continue to earn hefty salaries and bonuses.
At “Wall Street Reform: Oversight of Financial Stability and Consumer and Investor Protections,” the first Banking Committee hearing attended by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D, MA), Warren asked bank regulators how tough they really are on the biggest financial institutions on Wall Street and about the last few times they actually took any banks all the way to a trial.
Not long after Taibbi’s appearance on Bill Moyers’s program, his article on HSBC , Gangster Bankers: Too Big to Jail, was published in Rolling Stone.
Quoting from Taibbi’s article:
For at least half a decade, the storied British colonial banking power helped to wash hundreds of millions of dollars for drug mobs, including Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel, suspected in tens of thousands of murders just in the past 10 years – people so totally evil, jokes former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, that “they make the guys on Wall Street look good.” The bank also moved money for organizations linked to Al Qaeda and Hezbollah, and for Russian gangsters; helped countries like Iran, the Sudan and North Korea evade sanctions; and, in between helping murderers and terrorists and rogue states, aided countless common tax cheats in hiding their cash.
“They violated every goddamn law in the book,” says Jack Blum, an attorney and former Senate investigator who headed a major bribery investigation against Lockheed in the 1970s that led to the passage of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. “They took every imaginable form of illegal and illicit business.”
That nobody from the bank went to jail or paid a dollar in individual fines is nothing new in this era of financial crisis. What is different about this settlement is that the Justice Department, for the first time, admitted why it decided to go soft on this particular kind of criminal. It was worried that anything more than a wrist slap for HSBC might undermine the world economy. “Had the U.S. authorities decided to press criminal charges,” said Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer at a press conference to announce the settlement, “HSBC would almost certainly have lost its banking license in the U.S., the future of the institution would have been under threat and the entire banking system would have been destabilized.”
It was the dawn of a new era. In the years just after 9/11, even being breathed on by a suspected terrorist could land you in extralegal detention for the rest of your life. But now, when you’re Too Big to Jail, you can cop to laundering terrorist cash and violating the Trading With the Enemy Act, and not only will you not be prosecuted for it, but the government will go out of its way to make sure you won’t lose your license. Some on the Hill put it to me this way: OK, fine, no jail time, but they can’t even pull their charter? Are you kidding?
But the Justice Department wasn’t finished handing out Christmas goodies. A little over a week later, Breuer was back in front of the press, giving a cushy deal to another huge international firm, the Swiss bank UBS, which had just admitted to a key role in perhaps the biggest antitrust/price-fixing case in history, the so-called LIBOR scandal, a massive interest-raterigging conspiracy involving hundreds of trillions (“trillions,” with a “t”) of dollars in financial products. While two minor players did face charges, Breuer and the Justice Department worried aloud about global stability as they explained why no criminal charges were being filed against the parent company.
“Our goal here,” Breuer said, “is not to destroy a major financial institution.”
A reporter at the UBS presser pointed out to Breuer that UBS had already been busted in 2009 in a major tax-evasion case, and asked a sensible question. “This is a bank that has broken the law before,” the reporter said. “So why not be tougher?”
“I don’t know what tougher means,” answered the assistant attorney general.
Taibbi added that the Justice Department’s recent $1.9 billion settlement with HSBC was the big bank’s “third strike.”
In late January, PBS aired a Frontline program titled The Untouchables. The following day, David Sirota of Salon wrote about the program. Sirota called it a “stunning report” that exposed how the Obama administration deals with the malfeasance of the bankers on Wall Street.
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 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.
I recommend watching Frontline’s The Untouchables. It’s nearly 54-minutes long. Here’s the link:
SOURCES & FURTHER READING
Justice Department’s New Get-Tough Policy Is, Well, Not (Rolling Stone)
Why Mary Jo White is the wrong pick for the SEC (CNN Money)
Jack Lew and the Obama Administration’s Finance-Friendly Status Quo (The Daily Beast)
Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer Speaks at the New York City Bar Association–Thursday, September 13, 2012 (The United States Justice Department)