MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
"Lanny Breuer, Justice Department criminal division chief, is stepping down," a Wednesday Washington Post headline announced.
We'd like to think that it was a Tuesday BuzzFlash at Truthout commentary that did the trick: "The New Untouchables Are Wall Street Executives, Despite Evidence Many Likely Criminally Violated Sarbanes-Oxley Act." In that piece, BuzzFlash observed that Breuer is ultimately responsible for not prosecuting any key Wall Street executives, many of which – on the evidence available – oversaw a tsunami of criminal violations of the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
Many Americans are not aware of Sarbanes-Oxley, which has many legal requirements in it. A key regulation it places on corporations, under penalty of law, is full disclosure of financial transactions and any discovered fraudulent activity. The latter breaking of the law was key to how the subprime mortgage breakdown was the gateway to the collapse of the economy in 2008.
Yet, Breuer, who was – and likely will be again – an insider DC megabucks lawyer representing banks too big to fail and global corporations, settled on fines (or let the Securities and Exchange Commission do a slap on the wrist to corporate and financial masters of the universe). As the Washington Post confirms, "Prior to his appointment at the Justice Department, Breuer worked at the Washington office of the Covington & Burling law firm, alongside [Eric] Holder."
In short, Breuer and Holder are responsible to the American people for prosecuting the same masters of the universe clientele who they represented for lavish salaries at Covington & Burling. We can't read the minds of Breuer and Holder, but given DC precedent, it is quite likely that they will return to mega-bucks salary partnerships at a DC law firm again representing the kind of people who they are supposed to be prosecuting. If they criminally indict Wall Street executives, their financial value as attorneys decreases. That's the bottom line.
Besides, these guys are of the same elite managerial class that the Wall Street "made men" are.
So Breuer did not prosecute one Wall Street executive during his term as head of the criminal division, not one. Instead the likes of the Washington Post praise him for occasionally imposing fines that were merely the cost of doing business (think of drug cartels paying off Mexican and US government officials 5 or 10% for letting shipments go through, while pocketing 90 or 95% in profits – basically analogous to a DOJ or SEC fine, even if seemingly large.) What this means is that Wall Street financial firms and corporations just factor the fines into a smaller profit, but a large profit they still make on illegal activity – and a handsome one to boot.
As BuzzFlash wrote in its Tuesday commentary:
Lanny Breuer, the head of the criminal division at the Justice Department was interviewed at the time  by ["60 Minutes'" Steve] Kroft. Breuer claimed on air that the Los Angeles US Attorney had dived into potential prosecution of Countrywide [Financial], but Breuer admitted that the investigation was dropped. When asked by Kroft if Breuer was aware that the chief Countrywide executive in charge of ferreting out fraud was fired for exposing it – as it continued unabated – Breuer pleaded ignorance about the details of the case.
He also made an astounding assertion for the head of the criminal division of the DOJ. Breuer, who had claimed the LA feds had done an exhaustive job of looking into Countrywide, said that it was the duty of the compliance exec at Countrywide to come forward. He was at a loss to explain why she wouldn't have been interviewed as part of a thorough inquiry.
It should be noted that Breuer is responsible for the approval of the brutally excessive prosecution of Aaron Swartz by US Attorney Carmen Oritz. Although we can't say with certainty that Breuer is the kind of DC insider who values career advancement over the impartial and fair administration of justice, it certainly has that appearance.
As BuzzFlash has noted many times, the DOJ has a double standard for the rule of law: one of exoneration and impunity for the elite financial and political managerial class – and another for those US citizens who challenge the status quo.
As far as the head of Countrywide, "60 Minutes" revealed the same troubling lack of DOJ prosecution under Breuer -- and the same profiting from crime by a financial CEO:
In fact, according to a civil suit filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission, Countrywide's chief executive officer, Angelo Mozilo, knew as early as 2006 that a significant percentage of its subprime borrowers were engaged in mortgage fraud and that it hid this and other negative information about the quality of its loans from investors.
Mozilo, who admitted no wrongdoing, accepted a lifetime ban from ever serving as an officer or director of a publicly traded company, and agreed to pay a record $22 million fine, less than five percent of the compensation he received between 2000 and 2008.
As BuzzFlash observed in another recent commentary, "JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon Gets Impunity, While DOJ Puts 'Small Fry' Check Cashing Manager in Prison for Five Years":
On January 15, BuzzFlash wrote about how the late Aaron Swartz represented the double standard of the Department of Justice on aggressively prosecuting progressive activists – and demanding jail time – but letting off those in political and financial power. This can also be said about the government's treatment of Bradley Manning and many others versus the unprosecuted number of pro-administration classified leakers who are authorized to talk anonymously to the press on behalf of the administration.
Just think, is anyone getting prosecuted for all the leaks, including a book, about the Osama bin Laden raid? Not a chance.
BuzzFlash, also pointed out, as have numerous others, that the Wall Street bank fraudsters get bonuses and impunity, while the small fish of the financial world get prosecuted with an iron fist so that the Department of Justice (DOJ) can claim that it is enforcing the law. It's the appearance of abiding by the "rule of law," but in reality abandoning that standard for the powerful elite. For them the DOJ observes the ruling managerial class standard of omerta. It is the DC "masters of the universe" code of silence.
Top Wall Street dog and Obama favorite Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase's CEO, recently endured the "punishment" of having his yearly bonus reduced to $10 million dollars for not driving Chase's stock price and profit even higher. (Meanwhile, Chase cut its staff by 1500 last year.)
But the venerable Marcy Wheeler at emptywheel.net recently wrote a commentary that nailed down how the DOJ gives Dimon and bank executives at behemoths like HSBC a legal pass on criminal prosecution, while forcing a small fish in Los Angeles to go to jail for five years for lesser crimes. In this case, it involves the Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Act. Wheeler describes how the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency issued orders to JPMorgan Chase to comply with the act (which is primarily meant to reduce the illicit money laundering of cash). But JP Morgan Chase continues to flout the law.
No it wasn't BuzzFlash at Truthout that brought down Breuer, it was a Frontline program on Tuesday night. In it, according to the website Wall Street on Parade,
The portion of the program that likely galvanized the White House was the startling report by prosecutors that had worked under Breuer in the criminal division of the DOJ that there wasn’t even a pretense of a real investigation against the major Wall Street firms: no subpoenas, no document reviews, no wiretaps.
Following is the verbatim transcript of that portion of the program:
MARTIN SMITH: We spoke to a couple of sources from within the Criminal Division, and they reported that when it came to Wall Street, there were no investigations going on. There were no subpoenas, no document reviews, no wiretaps.
LANNY BREUER: Well, I don’t know who you spoke with because we have looked hard at the very types of matters that you’re talking about.
MARTIN SMITH: These sources said that at the weekly indictment approval meetings that there was no case ever mentioned that was even close to indicting Wall Street for financial crimes.
Meanwhile, ProPublica just posted this bombshell, "Morgan Stanley Peddled Security Its Own Employee Called ‘Nuclear Holocaust’."
On March 16, 2007, Morgan Stanley employees working on one of the toxic assets that helped blow up the world economy discussed what to name it. Among the team members' suggestions: "Subprime Meltdown," "Hitman," "Nuclear Holocaust," "Mike Tyson's Punchout," and the simple-yet-direct: "Shitbag."
Ha ha. Those hilarious investment bankers.
Then they gave it its real name and sold it to a Chinese bank.
We are never going to have a full understanding of what bad behavior bankers conducted in the years leading up to the financial crisis. The Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission have failed to hold big wrongdoers to account.
Morgan Stanley is a client of Covington & Burling, as previously noted the former – and perhaps future -- law firm of Breuer and Holder. Bank of America is also a major client of Covington & Burling. In 2008, Bank of America purchased Countrywide Financial, whose CEO -- cited above -- was let off the hook by the DOJ as far as criminal charges.
Breuer's been a good consigliere – he made sure his former law firm's clients made money even when fined and kept them out of jail – but a disgrace as head of the criminal division in the Department of Justice.