Congress: “Too Big to Jail: Inside the Obama Justice Department’s Decision Not to Hold Wall Street Accountable”

A galling read by the US House of Representatives.

The US House of Representatives today released the results of its three-year investigation – hampered along the way by the Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury – into why HSBC and its executives weren’t prosecuted.

Empirical evidence has told us for years that in the US a bank and its executives cannot be prosecuted if the bank is big enough. We’ve come to call this type of bank “Too Big to Jail.”

Empirical evidence has also told us that a bank can do essentially whatever it wants to, given that, if caught, it may have to pay a fine that then becomes just part of the cost of doing business. Wall Street doesn’t care about fines. They’re “extraordinary items” that banks and analysts systematically exclude from their “ex-items” per-share earnings.

Fines matter under GAAP reporting. But they don’t matter in the rosy picture that Wall Street paints of the banks. And so they don’t matter.

But now comes the House Financial Services Committee and offers evidence beyond our “empirical evidence”: a 288-page report, “Too Big to Jail: Inside the Obama Justice Department’s Decision Not to Hold Wall Street Accountable.” And below is the Committee’s galling summary. Enjoy!

Too Big to Jail: Internal Treasury Documents Reveal Why Justice Department Did Not Prosecute HSBC

Washington, July 11, 2016

The House Financial Services Committee on Monday released a staff report of its investigation into the U.S. Department of Justice’s decision not to prosecute HSBC or any of its executives or employees for serious violations of U.S. anti-money laundering laws and related offenses.

The Committee initiated its investigation in March 2013.  The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of the Treasury failed to comply with the Committee’s requests to obtain relevant documents, necessitating the issuance of subpoenas to both agencies.

Approximately three years after its initial inquiries, the Committee finally obtained copies of internal Treasury records showing that DOJ has not been forthright with Congress or the American people concerning its decision to decline to prosecute HSBC.

These documents show that:

  • Senior DOJ leadership, including then-Attorney General Eric Holder, overruled an internal recommendation by DOJ’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section to prosecute HSBC because of DOJ leadership’s concern that prosecuting the bank would have serious adverse consequences on the financial system.
  • Notwithstanding Attorney General Holder’s personal demand that HSBC agree to DOJ’s “take-it-or-leave-it” deferred prosecution agreement deal by November 14, 2012, HSBC appears to have successfully negotiated with DOJ for significant alterations to the deferred prosecution agreement’s terms in the weeks following the Attorney General’s deadline.
  • DOJ and federal financial regulators were rushing at what one Treasury official described as “alarming speed” to complete their investigations and enforcement actions involving HSBC in order to beat the New York Department of Financial Services.
  • In its haste to complete its enforcement action against HSBC, DOJ transmitted settlement numbers to HSBC before consulting with Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control to ensure that the settlement amount accurately reflected the full degree of HSBC’s sanctions violations.
  • The involvement of the United Kingdom’s Financial Services Authority in the U.S. government’s investigations and enforcement actions relating to HSBC, a British-domiciled institution, appears to have hampered the U.S. government’s investigations and influenced DOJ’s decision not to prosecute HSBC.
  • Attorney General Holder misled Congress concerning DOJ’s reasons for not bringing a criminal prosecution against HSBC.
  • DOJ to date has failed to produce any records pertaining to its prosecutorial decision making with respect to HSBC or any large financial institution, notwithstanding the Committee’s multiple requests for this information and a congressional subpoena requiring Attorney General Lynch to timely produce these records to the Committee.
  • Attorney General Lynch and Secretary Lew remain in default on their legal obligation to produce the subpoenaed records to the Committee.
  • DOJ’s and Treasury’s longstanding efforts to impede the Committee’s investigation may constitute contempt and obstruction of Congress.

The Committee is releasing this report to shed light on whether DOJ is making prosecutorial decisions based on the size of financial institutions and DOJ’s belief that such prosecutions could negatively impact the economy.  By the House Financial Services Committee.

The above summary by the House Financial Services Committee is infuriating even years after we’ve known, from watching it unfold, that this was the case, that, as Holder himself had said, a bank can be too big and its executives too powerful to prosecute, for fear of causing stocks to go down and bonds to blow up, or whatever….

But now, in this bizarre world of today, there’s a gloomy scenario the “smart money” is betting on. Read… Fear, Loathing & Record Money-Making in Government Bonds

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Wolf Richter

In his cynical, tongue-in-cheek manner, he muses on WOLF STREET about economic, business, and financial issues, Wall Street shenanigans, complex entanglements, and other things, debacles, and opportunities that catch his eye in the US, Europe, Japan, and occasionally China. WOLF STREET is the successor to his first platform… TP-Title-7-small-200px …whose ghastly name he finally abandoned in July 2014. Here’s the story on that. Wolf lives in San Francisco. He has over twenty years of C-level operations experience, including turnarounds and a VC-funded startup. He earned his BA and MBA in Texas and his MA in Oklahoma, worked in both states for years, including a decade as General Manager and COO of a large Ford dealership and its subsidiaries. But one day, he quit and went to France for seven weeks to open himself up to new possibilities, which degenerated into a life-altering three-year journey across 100 countries on all continents, much of it overland. And it almost swallowed him up.