Five years after the collapse of our economy, zero Wall Street power players have gone to jail. When everyone seems to know who to point the fingers at for this financial disaster, why is it that not one of these bigwigs have so much as been arrested or stood trial?
This is the question PBS’s Frontline decided to explore in a report this past Tuesday, which you can watch in full here. Speaking to a number of experts and insiders, the show found that the Department of Justice made minimal effort to bring those responsible for Wall Street’s fraudulent activity to justice.
The longstanding excuse from the White House is that there is not enough evidence to secure convictions against these executives. Although DOJ Criminal Chief Lanny Breuer claims the Obama administration would love to bring cases against those who committed such felonies, he insists he simply must back off without having a winning case.
While it seems fair to avoid losing trials, what is preposterous is the notion that out of hundreds of such potential cases against Wall Street heads, not a single one was deemed to have sufficient evidence. This excuse is proven even more ludicrous when Frontline interviews reporters who found employees who were willing to whistleblow to prove criminal intent, as well as people who worked for the DOJ who saw specific Wall Street cases with more than adequate evidence that were not pursued anyway.
Furthermore, it’s not as if the Department of Justice has a pristine reputation for only pursuing the most clear cut of cases. As Forbes points out, just last year, the DOJ prosecutors moved forward on a weak case against baseball pitcher Roger Clemens that resulted in a not guilty verdict. “The loss should be a wake-up call for the Department of Justice, which has failed at times to use prosecutorial discretion and good judgment in high-profile cases in recent years,” said the Forbes article, which outlines a whole series of DOJ misfires.
In other words, it is a joke for the White House to pretend it only pursues cases it can win. Skipping over all Wall Street felonies shows a disturbing bias. The DOJ can tell Frontline that it is merely a “professional decision”, but it is remarkable that it is choosing to exercise unprecedented “professionalism” in the face of Wall Street tossing aside ethics for the sake of profits.
Perhaps most telling was a speech Breuer gave saying he lost sleep at night contemplating the possible ramifications that prosecuting a large financial institution could have on the overall economy. When Frontline asked whether he should be taking into account outside factors when deciding cases to prosecute, Breuer replied affirmatively, citing a “responsibility” to bring negative consequences on those who had nothing to do with the banks’ mistakes.
However, the job of a federal prosecutor is to prosecute criminal activity, not worry about the fate of the banks. Besides, if Breuer is primarily concerned with the welfare of the general population as he suggests, it leaves the question why is he valuing a potential harm to Americans over the certain suffering that occurred because of bank fraud? Why let that go unpunished?
When no steps are taken to punish this criminal behavior, it sends a clear message to the elite: you are immune from prosecution and the rules do not apply to you.
For what it’s worth, the Justice Department has said that it does not like its portrayal on the Frontline story and refuses to cooperate with the show in the future. One would assume that it would continue to cooperate with the bankers, however.
Also, since the airing of Frontline’s report, it has been announced that Breuer will step down from his role with the Department of Justice. Maybe he can get a cushy Wall Street job as a thank you for his lack of vigilance like so many politicians before him!