Obama delivered heated rhetoric, but his actions signaled different priorities. Had Obama wanted to strike real fear in the hearts of bankers, he might have appointed former special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald or some other fire-breather as his attorney general. Instead, he chose Eric Holder, a former Clinton Justice official who, after a career in government, joined the Washington office of Covington & Burling, a top-tier law firm with an elite white-collar defense unit. The move to Covington, and back to Justice, is an example of Washington's revolving-door ritual, which, for Holder, has been lucrative--he pulled in $2.1 million as a Covington partner in 2008, and $2.5 million (including deferred compensation) when he left the firm in 2009.
Putting a Covington partner--he spent nearly a decade at the firm--in charge of Justice may have sent a signal to the financial community, whose marquee names are Covington clients. Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Deutsche Bank are among the institutions that pay for Covington's legal advice, some of it relating to matters before the Department of Justice. But Holder's was not the only face at Justice familiar to Covington clients. Lanny Breuer, who had co-chaired the white-collar defense unit at Covington with Holder, was chosen to head the criminal division at Obama's Justice. Two other Covington lawyers followed Holder into top positions, and Holder's principal deputy, James Cole, was recruited from Bryan Cave LLP, another white-shoe firm with A-list finance clients. ...
(Two members of Holder's team have already returned to Covington.) [my emphasis]
This may be legal, and I presume it is. But it's real corruption. It begs for a bad joke about lawyers and ethics, but I'll refrain.
It's always possible for someone who can expect to gain a lot of money for going easy on criminals in such positions. But when you know you can get $2.0-2.5 million a year after you leave office by going easy on them, it's a big temptation.
And his boss didn't seem to be interested in putting a lot of pressure on Holder to go after financial criminals:
Two months into his presidency, Obama summoned the titans of finance to the White House, where he told them, "My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks."
The bankers may have found the president's tone unsettling. Candidate Obama had been their guy, accepting vast amounts of Wall Street campaign money for his victories over Hillary Clinton and John McCain (Goldman Sachs executives ponied up $1 million, more than any other private source of funding in 2008). Obama far outraised his Republican rival, John McCain, on Wall Street--around $16 million to $9 million. As it turned out, Obama apparently actually meant what he said at that White House meeting--his administration effectively would stand between Big Finance and anything like a severe accounting. To the dismay of many of Obama's supporters, nearly four years after the disaster, there has not been a single criminal charge filed by the federal government against any top executive of the elite financial institutions. [my emphasis]
The financial industry de facto owns the national Democratic Party right now. And they are using it as well as the Republican Party to prevent the enactment of the kinds of regulations needed to prevent a recurrence of the kind of crash we had in 2007-8. And also to block prosecutions of people who should be prosecuted:
Strikingly, federal prosecutions overall have risen sharply under Obama, increasing dramatically in such areas as civil rights and health-care fraud. But according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a data-gathering organization at Syracuse University, financial-fraud prosecutions by the Department of Justice are at 20-year lows. They're down 39 percent since 2003, when fraud at Enron and WorldCom led to a series of prosecutions, and are just one third of what they were during the Clinton administration. (The Justice Department says the numbers would be higher if new categories of crime were counted.)
And they contrast this with the record of prosecutions in the wake of the S&L collapse, one of the great accomplishments of St. Reagan's Administration. The collapse, that is, not the prosecutions. Those were mainly done under Old Man Bush's Presidency:
"There hasn't been any serious investigation of any of the large financial entities by the Justice Department, which includes the FBI," says William Black, an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, who, as a government regulator in the 1980s, helped clean up the S&L mess. Black, who is a Democrat, notes that the feds dealt with the S&L crisis with harsh justice, bringing more than a thousand prosecutions, and securing a 90 percent conviction rate. The difference between the government's response to the two crises, Black says, is a matter of will, and priorities. "You need heads on the pike," he says. "The first President Bush's orders were to get the most prominent, nastiest frauds, and put their heads on pikes as a demonstration that there's a new sheriff in town."
The following really looks bad. But after Obama's first three years, now getting closer to 3 1/2, it's not surprising:
Meanwhile, Obama's political operation continued to ask Wall Street for campaign money. A curious pattern developed. A Newsweek examination of campaign finance records shows that, in the weeks before and after last year's scathing Senate report, several Goldman executives and their families made large donations to Obama's Victory Fund and related entities, some of them maxing out at the highest individual donation allowed, $35,800, even though 2011 was an electoral off-year. Some of these executives were giving to Obama for the first time. ...
It would be a leap to infer these Goldman contributions were made--or received--as quid pro quo for dropping a criminal investigation. Still, the situation constitutes what one Justice veteran acknowledged is a "bad set of facts."