Statement of Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen
Attorney General Eric Holder’s record was badly blemished by his nearly overwhelming failure to hold corporate criminals accountable.
Holder came into office in the immediate aftermath of a devastating financial crisis caused by an epidemic of corporate crime and wrongdoing. Five years later, he has failed utterly to hold the perpetrators of the crisis accountable. “Too big to jail” became de facto policy, as the U.S. Department of Justice declined to prosecute or even seriously investigate the Wall Street banks or their CEOs who crashed our economy and devastated communities across the country.
Indeed, even when Holder’s Department of Justice uncovered evidence of large financial institutions such as HSBC engaging in money laundering on behalf of narcotraffickers and countries the United States considers terrorists, it failed to criminally prosecute the corporations – let alone the responsible executives. Only under public pressure did the department change its stance and begin exacting criminal pleas, as in the case of BNP Paribas.
Of course, there have been important exceptions to the corporate crime-coddling at the Department of Justice, notably in the case of BP, where Holder’s department deserves plaudits for its effort to impose meaningful sanctions on the company whose recklessness led to the death of 11 workers and an environmental disaster.
As President Obama considers candidates to replace Eric Holder, he should apply this litmus test: Will the new attorney general hold accountable the institutions and individuals on Wall Street who devastated Main Street? Will the new attorney general abandon the “too big to jail” prosecution policy and move toward a regime of transparency and real penalties for criminal mega-banks?