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Corporate Lawbreakers Continue to Flourish Under ‘Tough on Crime’ Trump

Public Citizen News / March-April 2019

By David Rosen

This article appeared in the March/April 2019 edition of Public Citizen News. Download the full edition here.

So much for being a “tough on crime” president, at least when it comes to corporate criminals.

Corporate enforcement actions at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) fell for the second year in a row under President Donald Trump, according to a Public Citizen report released in January, “Corporate Impunity Worsens Under Trump.”

In Trump’s second year, the DOJ completed just 227 cases against corporate offenders, 14 fewer than in 2017, and down heavily from 308 in President Barack Obama’s final year in office.

The combined penalty totals for Trump’s first two years – $20.6 billion – are 80 percent lower than Obama’s last two years, $101.2 billion.

While the Trump DOJ’s financial penalties increased to $15.7 billion in 2018 from $4.9 billion, the 2018 level is below Obama-era penalties.

Additionally, more than 60 percent of the 2018 total is attributable to just four cases against big banks – the Royal Bank of Scotland, Wells Fargo, Barclays and HSBC – that were initiated by the Obama administration for financial crisis-era allegations.

“The sustained decline in corporate enforcement is the predictable outcome of corporate leniency policies the Trump administration has embraced – even while pursuing ‘zero tolerance’ enforcement toward border crossings and street crime,” said Rick Claypool, a Public Citizen research director and author of the report. “This is two-tiered justice at its worst.”

The analysis follows a July 2018 Public Citizen report that found DOJ penalties for corporate violations plummeted by 90 percent during Trump’s first year in office, and that corporate enforcement declined significantly at nearly all federal agencies under Trump appointees.

“The declines in corporate enforcement reflect an array of policy decisions and allocation of enforcement resources, all of which aim to let corporations escape accountability when they pollute our air, endanger workers, cheat the government, bribe foreign officials and more,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen.