Illicit financial behavior has been decriminalized in the United States – for all practical purposes. Despite the revelations of massive misconduct by banks and other financial services businesses, criminal investigations are rare, indictments exceptional and guilty judgments extraordinary.
Most potentially culpable actions are overlooked by authorities, slighted, reduced from criminal to civil status when pursued, individuals evade penalties much less punishment, and the appeals courts take extreme liberties in exonerating culprits when and if the odd conviction reaches them.
The last mentioned are establishing new frontiers in the formulation of ingeniously sophistic arguments to justify letting financial malefactors off the hook. As some wit suggests, all 32 or so judicial inventions should be assembled in a legal code called the Goldman Variations.
Our elected officials, our regulators, our politicos and the media have come to accept this as the natural order of things. Business Sections of newspapers, like The New York Times, read like the gazette for the world of organized crime in its heyday when the five Mafia families were on top of their game. (substitute Goldman Sachs, Chase Morgan, Bank of America, CITI, Wells Fargo). As for the Wall Street Journal and the legion of business magazines, they blend features of VARIETY and Osservatore Romano.
The reasons for this phenomenon are multiple: the rule of money in our politics; the neutering of regulatory bodies by the appointment of business friendly officers in symbiotic relationships with former or prospective employers; a wider culture in which the cult of wealth pervades all; and the timidity of a political class that defers to the power centers who enjoy rank, status and respect.
Obama’s appointment of Mary Jo White, from the white gloves law firm Debevoise & Plimpton which specialized in advising and representing Wall Street during the financial crisis (where she was head of litigation), to head the Security Exchange Commission is roughly analogous to appointing Dominick “Quiet Dom” Cirillo, consigliore of the Vito Genovese Mafia family, to run the FBI’s Organized Crime Task Force in Manhattan.
In White’s case, her earlier experience as United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York (the financial district) made her an exceptionally valuable acquisition when she switched sides in 2003 – 2013. Her record at the SEC since 2013 confirms her adherence to the Holder philosophy of leniency toward financial misdeeds – and confirms where her loyalties lie.
Appointments to senior positions dealing with financial matters have been primarily “parachutists.” Several of them are more egregious than the White case. So too was former Attorney-General Eric Holder. Within days of leaving the Justice Department, he was back at his former corporate law firm – albeit as a “counselor” for the one-year stipulated transition period.
During his years in private practice, Holder represented the Swiss private bank UBS. Because of this, he recused himself from participating in the Department of Justice investigation of UBS’s abetting of tax evasion by U.S. account-holders.
Such is the privileged status of our largest financial institutions that the Obama administration has amended, de facto, the Constitution to accommodate their claim to being above the law. Former Attorney General Holder is the author of the doctrine that posits the principle of “too-big-to-prosecute.”
Fearing Economic Damage
Holder’s publicly stated view is that he, the Justice Department and the Executive Branch generally have a right to exempt financial institutions from criminal prosecution when they believe that doing so would cause “unacceptable” damage to the national economy. It first took shape during Bill Clinton’s administration.
Holder presented the full-blown doctrine in a startling confession during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 5, 2011. “I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if you do prosecute, if you do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy,” Holder said, according to The Hill newspaper.
Holder’s comments didn’t come as a total surprise. His underlings had already made similar confessions to The New York Times the previous year, after they declined to prosecute HSBC for flagrant, years-long violations of money-laundering laws, out of fear that doing so would hurt the global economy.
Lanny Breuer, formerly in charge of doling out the Justice Department’s wrist slaps to banks, told Frontline as much in the documentary “The Untouchables” which aired in January 2011.
Of course, President Obama and Attorney-General Holder had taken oaths to uphold the laws of the land. That pledge does not allow them personal discretion as to whom it applies. Yet, they have acted as if the Justice Department and the Executive Branch generally have a right to exempt financial institutions from criminal prosecution when they believe that doing so would cause “unacceptable” damage to the national economy.
Let us be clear; Holder is not referring to the interpretation and application of any legal standard. He is referring to a purely subjective standard that has nothing to do with the law. In a similar vein, it is reported that the Obama administration has instructed the Department of Justice and the FBI to make mortgage fraud its lowest priority and, indeed, to dismiss hundreds of cases without any investigation whatsoever. (Report of the Inspector General, Department of Justice March 11, 2014).
The administration also improperly has diverted funds appropriated for this specific purpose to other areas. This arbitrary exclusion from investigation of the largest category of financial crime has been made in the face of a well-publicized and solemn undertaking by both President Obama and Attorney General Holder to take bold and expeditious action in this area.
“Equal protection of the laws” is a principle enshrined in the Constitution. There is no allowance for the President or the Attorney General, who serves at the President’s pleasure, to establish special classes of persons who are exempt from the laws’ stipulations – either to make them immune or to deny them due process. Yet, that is what they explicitly have done.
In a commencement address at NYU in 2014, Holder stated bluntly: “Responsibility remains so diffuse, and top executives so insulated, that any misconduct could again be considered more a symptom of the institution’s culture than a result of the willful actions of any single individual.”
The Holder-Obama doctrine concentrates heavily on the disruptive effects on the nation’s (and the world’s) financial system were any of the too-big-to-fail banks brought low by a combination of criminal convictions and financial penalties that were greater than the profits made from systematically skirting the law – as currently done.
Addressing the Problem
That is a highly debatable proposition on purely technical grounds. Whatever the appraisal one makes, there are two straightforward solutions to the problem as stated.
First, one should break them up so that were they to “fail,” the systemic consequences would be manageable. Second, risk is increased rather than lowered by following a legal cum political strategy that has the effect of encouraging the managers of mega-financial institutions to play fast-and-loose in their financial maneuverings.
To return to the analogy of the five Mafia families, a law enforcement strategy that favored civil action over criminal prosecution, that entailed fines rather than prison time, and that kept those fines at a level where they could be calculated as a cost of doing a very lucrative business would result in a flourishing of criminal organizations – at great cost to society.
Moreover, were there a practice of Mafia bosses and police commissioners/district attorneys parachuting from one sphere to another, the collateral damage inflicted on all law enforcement would be enormous.
The Holder claim for corporate immunity is unsustainable by any reasonable legal standard and reading of the Constitution. Such reasonableness, though, no longer prevails. Witness the widespread passive acceptance of this novel revolutionary doctrine when it was pronounced – and its only slight rhetorical qualification since.
The radical idea that nominally criminal acts should be understood contextually and that judgment as well as punishment should be administered accordingly opens up a wide assortment of questions about the conduct of our judicial system.
There is no reason why it could not be applied generally to the entire range of criminal conduct and proceedings. Following the Holder-Obama logic, this should be done at every stage of jurisprudence: indictment, trial, judgment and punishment. A recent case in New York City illustrates what the implications might be.
In that instance, a woman was arrested at Kennedy airport for possession of 500 grams of cocaine. She was detained, indicted and convicted of a felony. All that followed the well-trod legal path. It was the sentencing that broke the mold.
Judge Frederick Block placed the woman on probation rather than throwing her into the slammer. His main argument, developed in a closely reasoned 46-page opinion, concentrated on the “collateral consequences” of her conviction. Those consequences were deemed adequate punishment to meet the requirements of the law, society and the felon’s long-term integration into the community. The addition of prison time would have made the punishment disproportionate to the crime. It would have exceeded – not fit – the crime.
What the judge pointed out is that so many legal disabilities attach to anyone convicted of a felony as to deny the person a reasonable chance of pursuing a normal life upon release. Those disabilities include disqualification for all kinds of access to government assistance programs which cover education, housing and employment. The net result would be a high likelihood of recidivism. From society’s perspective, that translates into a higher likelihood of costs associated with welfare, medical care, and possible re-institutionalization. In addition, there are the tangible and intangible costs for possible maintenance of any children she might bear.
The woman in question lives with her mother in New Haven where she was enrolled in college and was working part time as a nail technician. For her, the collateral consequences could be expected to be particularly high. The underlying logic, though, applies generally.
What about the “systemic consequences?” Isn’t punishment for the commission of a crime supposed to act as a deterrent for others? Yes – in principle. That consideration, however, did not figure in the Holder-Obama doctrine as applied to financial misdeeds whose perpetrators are in a more visible position to set an example.
Indeed, one could argue that the sense of entitlement and expectation of having a right to act with impunity free of worry about accountability is far more pronounced among Wall Street executives than it is among inner city poor. Thereby, the positive value of criminal conviction followed by individual punishment would be commensurately greater in terms of a benefit to society.
The case cited above involves a felonious criminal act whose commission was proven in a court of law. American prisons, today, confine hundreds of thousands whose crimes are of a lesser order. Indeed, a significant percentage may not have committed any crime at all but rather are victims of police campaigns to cleanse the streets of those who allegedly have committed relatively minor misdemeanors.
Draconian enforcement of “zero tolerance” philosophies has led to widespread abuse of the police power in cities like New York. The absurd “three strikes and you’re out” strategy initiated in California and promoted nationwide by President Bill Clinton, has had even more dire results in spiking the incarceration rates, for longer terms – jailing mainly marijuana and other drug users who are a threat only to themselves rather than to society.
Much has been made of the dogmatic claim that a crackdown on misbehavior is the reason for the drastic drop in urban violent crime. This is an urban legend. In New York City, former Mayor Rudi Giuliani and his Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, have been lionized for this supposed achievement. Yet, the story is pure fiction.
The unprecedented sharp decline occurred under David Dinkins, his black predecessor who was widely criticized for being “soft on crime” and stinting in his support for the police. The truth is that violent crime was closely correlated with the crack epidemic and its recession – reinforced by other trends that registered nationwide.
For these categories of criminals and alleged criminals whose misdeeds fall in the category of misdemeanors, Judge Block’s concept of “collateral consequences” is even more compelling. The concept, in fact, should be broadened to pertain to arrest and prosecution as well as sentencing. The consequences to be taken into account properly should aggregate their weight for both the individual and society. Then, there are the intangible costs of mass criminalization and imprisonment.
Yet, while rulings like Judge Block’s may be rare regarding “street crimes,” they have become routine regarding Wall Street crimes, which are not prosecuted in the name of the Holder doctrine concerned about the unsettling effects on investor confidence and markets from casting a dark cloud over “Wall Street.”
Again, this is dubious on technical grounds; and the logical responses obvious. Let us shift ground and think of the unsettling effects produced by legally stigmatizing a considerable slice of inner-city populations. Disruption of families, instilling widespread feelings of persecution, aggravation of relations with the police, more estranged race relations, etc. It may be difficult to place numbers on these costs, but the negative consequences for society are great.
The full extent of the decade-long police “zero tolerance” campaign, and its demoralizing impact on largely minority neighborhoods, is one of the great unreported stories of our times. Corruption was its hallmark: in its misleading justifications, in its methods that systematized entrapment and fabrication of charges (Examples: creating a public nuisance by drinking a beer from a can on the steps of your house; impeding pedestrian movement by stopping to chat while walking your dog at midnight; loitering in the hallway of your own apartment building).
Other elements of the corruption included its degeneration into a crass quota system, its abuse of the criminal justice system that jailed hundreds of thousands of innocents who couldn’t meet bail or hire a lawyer, forcing them to admit to misdemeanors that leave a permanent stain on their records in order to be released, and its exploitation by cynical politicians.
The one first-hand account that tells the tale is Matt Taibbi’s deeply disturbing DIVIDE (Spiegel & Grau 2014). It deals with New York City, but the same phenomenon is visible across urban America.
Collateral consequences can be a valuable concept – one that has multiple meanings. But it should be applied where it serves justice not iniquity.
Michael Brenner is a professor of international affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. email@example.com
Holder Deadline for Prosecuting Wall Street Executives for Financial Crisis Passes without a Single Charge
Shortly before Attorney General Eric Holder left office, he gave his prosecutors 90 days to decide whether to indict any Wall Street executives for decisions that caused the 2008 financial crisis.
Holder has now left the building at the Department of Justice (DOJ). Also gone is his deadline for punishing big bankers, none of whom were charged with a crime.
Holder’s shop had six years to build cases against key people at institutions like Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase. It’s not known if prosecutors ever did that. What is known is that the only charges actually filed by DOJ lawyers have been against smaller fish, namely those working at small and medium sized banks, according the Center for Public Integrity (CPI).
The investigative news site reviewed enforcement actions and civil lawsuits filed by the Justice Department, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and found “these agencies have been far more likely to charge or sue individuals who work at small and medium sized banks, and foreign financial firms, than those that work at domestic banking giants such as J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. or Citigroup.”
CPI’s Alison Fitzgerald reported that none of the five largest banks in the country are involved in criminal cases filed by the Justice Department that pertain to the financial crisis.
“Two defendants who were unsuccessfully prosecuted ran a hedge fund for the now-defunct investment bank Bear Stearns,” she wrote. “About a dozen others are from smaller banks or foreign institutions.”
At the SEC, only four of the more than 100 bank executives named in lawsuits were from the top five banks, according to Fitzgerald. The FDIC has sued nearly 2,000 bank executives, none of whom worked at any of the big Wall Street banks.
“There’s no question that these banks have admitted that they’ve violated laws and regulations,” Independent Community Banker of America CEO Camden Fine told CPI. “These guys on Wall Street get their checkbooks out and write a check. This is an issue of unequal enforcement.”
For his part, Holder recently defended his efforts and that of the DOJ to prosecute individuals at the big banks for criminal wrongdoing. “To the extent that individuals have not been prosecuted, people should understand it is not for lack of trying,” he said.
“Nonsense,” countered former U.S. Assistant Attorney General Jimmy Gurulé. “Charges for white-collar crimes are filed every single day by U.S. attorneys across the country,” he told International Business Times. “Just because they’re more difficult with banks is not a legitimate excuse for bringing zero charges against individuals.”
To Learn More:
Bankers From Major Institutions Still Haven’t Been Held Responsible For Financial Crash (by Alison Fitzgerald, Center for Public Integrity)
Who Caused The Financial Crisis? Prosecutors Face 3-Month Deadline for Bringing Charges in the Subprime Mortgage Mess (by Owen Davis, International Business Times )
Instead of Wall St. Prosecutions, Holder Delivers a Deadline (by William Cohan, New York Times )
Eric Holder’s Last Chance to Prosecute Financial Meltdown Bankers (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov )
While the US government touted its “record” settlement reached this week with Bank of America for mortgage fraud that helped fuel the 2008 recession, the details of the agreement indicate yet another light punishment for an offending Wall Street titan.
Bank of America agreed to a $16.65 billion settlement with federal authorities for selling toxic mortgages and misleading investors, the US Justice Department announced Thursday.
“This historic resolution – the largest such settlement on record – goes far beyond ‘the cost of doing business,’” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.
“Under the terms of this settlement, the bank has agreed to pay $7 billion in relief to struggling homeowners, borrowers, and communities affected by the bank’s conduct. This is appropriate given the size and scope of the wrongdoing at issue,” Holder added.
Yet the $7 billion in “relief” is considered a “soft money” fine, in which the bank will reduce some homeowners’ mortgages. Very few homeowners are eligible for the refinancing pursuant to the settlement, AP reported. Those who are eligible may need to wait years to see any settlement aid, as payouts will be ongoing through 2018.
Those already in the hole following a lost home due to foreclosure or a short sale – when a lender takes less money for a home than what the borrower owes – are unlikely to benefit from the terms of the settlement.
Outside of the $7 billion for consumers, the Bank of America settlement includes a $5 billion cash penalty and $4.6 billion in remediation payments. Large portions of the deal will be eligible to claim as business expenses, allowing the mega bank to treat them as tax write-offs.
The Bank of America settlement includes the appointment of an independent monitor to review the consumer relief portion of the agreement. It is yet to be determined when the monitor will be named.
The deal echoes similar agreements the government reached with other Wall Street players, like JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup, for crimes committed surrounding the recent economic recession.
JPMorgan Chase came to a $13 billion settlement in November. The $4 billion supposedly offered to homeowner relief has yet to benefit many in need, according to the advocacy group Home Defenders League. Citigroup reached a $7 billion deal with the government.
Critics of these deals have blasted the US government for its ongoing, lax attitude regarding mass crimes committed by powerful banks that, they say, are not adequately punished for wrongdoing.
“[T]he latest round of settlements deals with misconduct that even though the banks are getting off on the cheap again, the underlying abuses don’t strike at the heart of the too big to fail mortgage securitization complex,” said Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism.
“So the [Obama] Administration can feign being a little more bloody-minded. Even so, the greater and greater proportion in recent deals of funny money relative to real dough show that this is simply another variant of an exercise in optics.”
No major bank executive has faced criminal charges following the mortgage crisis. Without significant retribution for banks and executives that knowingly passed off fraudulent mortgages, Wall Street players will continue to act with impunity, argued Dean Baker, economist and director of the Center for Economic & Policy Research.
“Knowingly packaging and selling fraudulent mortgages is fraud. It is a serious crime that could be punished by years in jail,” Baker wrote. “The risk of jail time is likely to discourage bankers from engaging in this sort of behavior.”
William D. Cohan, a former senior mergers and acquisitions banker, wrote in the New York Times that, not only has the government barely punished those on the hook for Wall Street crimes, the Justice Department has also offered “sanitized” versions of events that led up to the crimes in its accounts given to the public following investigations.
“The American people are deprived of knowing precisely how bad things got inside these banks in the years leading up to the financial crisis, and the banks, knowing they will be saved the humiliation caused by the public airing of a trove of emails and documents, will no doubt soon be repeating their callous and indifferent behavior,” Cohan wrote.
Bank of America resisted the settlement at first, claiming nearly all bad mortgage securities under scrutiny came from Countrywide and Merrill Lynch. Both firms were purchased by Bank of America amid the 2008 financial crisis.
A federal judge in Manhattan ruled in a separate case that Bank of America was liable for the pre-merger mortgages, issuing a penalty of $1.3 billion. The ruling pushed the bank to agree to the settlement. Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan said Thursday that the deal is “in the best interests of our shareholders and allows us to continue to focus on the future.”
Meanwhile, consumers advocates said the faulty mortgages will continue to haunt homeowners and their own vision of the future.
“It is hard to see how these settlements provide relief commensurate with the harm caused,” said Kevin Stein, associate director of the California Reinvestment Coalition, according to AP. “Countless families and communities have been devastated by predatory loans that should not have been made.”
Following the Thursday announcement of the settlement, Bank of America’s stock rose more than 4 percent.
Eric Holder just published an op-ed in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, apparently aiming to generate confidence in DOJ’s investigation into Darren Wilson’s killing of Mike Brown.
It starts with 3 sentences describing Brown’s killing — with no mention of Wilson, or even that a cop killed Brown.
Since the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown, the nation and the world have witnessed the unrest that has gripped Ferguson, Mo. At the core of these demonstrations is a demand for answers about the circumstances of this young man’s death and a broader concern about the state of our criminal justice system.
At a time when so much may seem uncertain, the people of Ferguson can have confidence that the Justice Department intends to learn — in a fair and thorough manner — exactly what happened.
A disembodied shooting killed Brown in this telling; violence did not.
Holder then spends several paragraphs discussing both the investigation itself, as well as the actions of the Civil Rights Division before he turns – in the course of one paragraph — to the protests. Here, violence is described as violence.
We understand the need for an independent investigation, and we hope that the independence and thoroughness of our investigation will bring some measure of calm to the tensions in Ferguson. In order to begin the healing process, however, we must first see an end to the acts of violence in the streets of Ferguson. Although these acts have been committed by a very small minority — and, in many cases, by individuals from outside Ferguson — they seriously undermine, rather than advance, the cause of justice. And they interrupt the deeper conversation that the legitimate demonstrators are trying to advance.
The implication, of course, is that the violence comes exclusively from that “very small minority,” not the cops shooting rubber bullets from their tanks.
I find the next paragraph truly remarkable.
The Justice Department will defend the right of protesters to peacefully demonstrate and for the media to cover a story that must be told. But violence cannot be condoned. I urge the citizens of Ferguson who have been peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights to join with law enforcement in condemning the actions of looters, vandals and others seeking to inflame tensions and sow discord.
The Justice Department — the Agency Eric Holder leads, the 40 FBI Agents and Civil Rights prosecutors Holder described — has done nothing visible thus far to defend the First Amendment.
And then, Holder says, “violence cannot be condoned.” A bizarre passive sentence with no agent. By whom? Who cannot condone violence?!?!
And he uses it to urge “the citizens of Ferguson who have been peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights” — many of whom have been arrested, bullied, tear gassed, some of whom have formed chains to protect businesses — to “join with law enforcement,” the same law enforcement that has been bullying them. Holder asks these citizens — who presumably are the ones he says cannot condone violence — to join the cops who have been engaging in violence to condemn others who have also been engaging in violence. Those “others” inflame tensions and sow discord. The cops don’t, according to this telling.
It takes a good paragraph and a half before Holder says the cops must restore trust. Only unlike the “citizens” of Ferguson, Holder does not urge the cops directly to do … anything. He just describes what should happen, he doesn’t command it to happen.
At the same time, good law enforcement requires forging bonds of trust between the police and the public. This trust is all-important, but it is also fragile. It requires that force be used in appropriate ways. Enforcement priorities and arrest patterns must not lead to disparate treatment under the law, even if such treatment is unintended. And police forces should reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.
Note what else happens? That violence — unmentioned in Mike Brown’s actual shooting, but explicitly described when “those others” did it — here becomes “force.” Something distinct from the violence of looters.
Darren Wilson’s shooting of Mike Brown? Not described as violence — not even described as the act of a known man. The looters’ looting? They’re engaged in “violence.” And finally, the cops, whom Holder doesn’t dare urge to tone things down? They are exercising “force,” not “violence.”
I get there are legal reasons why he did this — notably, this permits him to endorse findings that Wilson used “force” out of fear for his own safety! But the grammar and vocabulary of this op-ed insists on the state’s monopoly on violence that it has been abusing for 10 days.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has treated mortgage fraud cases as a low priority, even though President Barack Obama promised to crack down on such crimes in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
DOJ also greatly exaggerated its success in prosecuting mortgage fraud, according to an investigation by the department’s Office of the Inspector General (IG).
Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. declared four years ago that mortgage fraud crimes had “reached crisis proportions,” and promised his agency would be “fighting back” in response.
But the IG’s report (pdf) shows the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) put mortgage fraud at the bottom of its criminal priority list—after receiving extra funding ($196 million from the 2009 to 2011) to address this problem. In some major cities, mortgage fraud wasn’t even on the FBI’s radar as any kind of a priority.
“Despite receiving significant additional funding from Congress to pursue mortgage fraud cases, the FBI in adding new staff did not always use these new positions to exclusively investigate mortgage fraud,” the report states.
A “significant backlog of unaddressed and pending mortgage fraud investigations” was disclosed by supervisors interviewed by IG investigators. In fact, important fraud cases were completely shut down by the FBI, not due to a lack of resources, but because the Bureau’s resources were diverted to other operations that were given higher priority, according to the report.
Just as disturbing was the fact that Justice inflated its numbers to make it appear prosecutors were doing more than they actually were.
In 2012, Holder announced his lawyers had charged 530 people during the previous year with mortgage fraud that had cost homeowners more than $1 billion.
In truth, the numbers were more like 107 people charged in cases totaling only $95 million, the IG found. Even after the figures were proven to be incorrect, the DOJ continued to cite the false statistics for nearly a year.
“The inspector general’s report sheds light on what looks like an attempt by the Justice Department to pull the wool over the public’s eyes with respect to its efforts to go after the wrongdoers involved in mortgage fraud,” Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. “According to the inspector general, the department wasted time cooking the numbers about the cases it pursued, when it should have been prosecuting cases.”
The IG offered numerous recommendations to the department, most of which involved fixes to DOJ’s recordkeeping system that had produced such inaccurate figures.
The Justice Department objected to the IG’s conclusions, citing prosecutors doubling the number of mortgage fraud indictments from 2009 to 2011.
“The facts regarding the department’s work on mortgage fraud tell a much different story than this report,” Ellen Canale, a department spokeswoman, told The New York Times. “As the report itself notes, even at a time of constrained budget resources, the department has dedicated significant manpower and funding to combating mortgage fraud.”
Mortgage fraud—through falsification of documents by lenders and brokers—was one of the catalysts of the 2008 financial collapse. Fraud involving mortgage-backed securities, said to be larger in scope and also a contributing factor to the collapse, is considered by the FBI to be securities fraud and was not addressed by the IG report.
To Learn More:
U.S. Criticized for Lack of Action on Mortgage Fraud (by Matt Apuzzo, New York Times)
Mortgage Fraud Efforts Fell Short, Justice Department Inspector General Concludes (by Jeffrey Benzing, Main Justice)
Audit of the Department of Justice’s Efforts to Address Mortgage Fraud (U.S. Department of Justice, Inspector General) (pdf)
Justice Dept. Sues Bank of America over Prime Mortgage Fraud (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
Big Banks Slither out of Mortgage Fraud Review with Minor Costs (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
The Attorney General of the United States of America Eric Holder has taken the unusual step of writing a letter to the Russian Federation essentially making promises that United States will do nothing unusual or in any way against U.S. law if the Russian Federation will just put aside its own norms, the Russian Constitution, international law and conventions and just, as the U.S. Ambassador put it, “return” Mr. Edward Snowden to the United States.
The Attorney General begins his letter by listing the “crimes” that Mr. Snowden is charged with ignoring the fact that the laws that Mr. Snowden is said to have broken are not crimes in the Russian Federation, or perhaps Mr. General is under the assumption that U.S. law somehow is something that the rest of the world must abide by and follow.
Judging from the real and documented history of the United States, the country possesses a total lack of respect or regard for international law and the laws of other sovereign nations, especially the Russian Federation. This is evident from the illegal invasions of sovereign nations, illegal torture programs, extra-judicial executions by drone and other means and with regard to Russia, the continuous illegal kidnapping and rendition of Russian citizens back to the United States.
I have been documenting these crimes for over a decade and have been the victim of similar U.S. ‘retribution”, so hearing the Attorney General preach to Russia about U.S. law as it is engaging in asking Russia to also set aside its Constitution, as the U.S. does, and engage in double standards and hypocrisy, is something nauseating to say the least.
The sheer hypocrisy that is evident in the U.S. actions surrounding Mr. Snowden and the level of desperation that the U.S. has shown are simply mind boggling in their breadth and scope.
Mr. Holder writes:
“Mr. Snowden believes that he is unable to travel out of Russia and must therefore take steps to legalize his status. That is not accurate; he is able to travel. Despite the revocation of his passport on June 22, 2013, Mr. Snowden remains a U.S. citizen. He is eligible for a limited validity passport good for direct return to the United States. The United States is willing to immediately issue such a passport to Mr. Snowden.”
The whole point, in case Mr. Holder has missed it, which it is obvious he has, is that Mr. Snowden has been granted political asylum in several countries and had wanted to travel to those countries. Not face death or torture at the hands of a government that has secret torture prisons, launches wars of aggression at every political whim, has off-shore indefinite detention facilities and engages in regular extra-judicial executions, just to name a few of the continuing violations of international norms that the U.S. is guilty of.
Such a government can and must never be trusted and that is a fact that can in no way be known better than by someone like Mr. Snowden who worked for the CIA and the NSA. So a one way ticket to America is not an option Mr. Holder. No one in their right mind would trust any of the assurances given by Holder, and Mr. Snowden is right, and moreover, has the right, to seek asylum and be protected.
“We also understand from press reports that Mr. Snowden has filed papers seeking temporary asylum in Russia on the grounds that if he were returned to the United States, he would be tortured and would face the death penalty. These claims are entirely without merit.”
Again are we supposed to forget the last several decades of world history? Are we supposed to forget Manning who has been tortured, are we to forget Abu-Ghraib, Guantanamo and even ex Vice President Richard Chaney signing off on such torture techniques as “puncturing an eye” and “slicing a testicle”? Are we to forget case after case after case and report after report of other instances of torture, extra-judicial executions and even innocent men and women being executed when there was evidence that exonerated them?
Mr. Holder insults our intelligence.
“Second, Mr. Snowden will not be tortured. Torture is unlawful in the United States…”
It is interesting to note that he says “unlawful” and not “illegal” and this whole argument is absurd regardless of the wording because we know the U.S. renditions people all the time to countries where torture is legal and we know the U.S. has its own special off-shore torture prison at Guantanamo. Simply unbelievable.
The rest of the letter goes on to say that Mr. Snowden would be granted a fair trial blah blah blah… Yeah good one Mr. Holder, just like the NATO 5, Jeremy Hammond, Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, Muammar Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, everyone who has ever been droned, the hundreds of men at Guantanamo and let’s not forget how Trayvon Martin’s family got justice, etc. ad-nauseum.
The United States has become a rogue illegal nation and the continued persecution of Mr. Edward Snowden, a young man who exposed that rogue nation’s illegality against the world and its own citizens and more importantly Mr. Holder, against the very Constitution you are sworn to uphold, prove beyond all doubt that Mr. Snowden is in very grave and imminent danger.
Please don’t insult the intelligence of the world and the Russian Government by engaging in such ridiculous letter writing Mr. Holder. We all know that once Mr. Snowden is in your hands, and I pray for him that never happens, he will be interrogated using your “enhanced interrogation techniques” until he goes insane or kills himself and if he does survive he will be locked in solitary confinement under special observation until the day he dies, that is of course if he is not executed, as nothing will stop you from executing him once he is in your hands.
Will a letter from the Russian Government saying execution is illegal stop you if there comes a day when the switch is about to be pulled on Mr. Snowden? No. So why should your false guarantees force Russia to violate its own Constitution?
By the way Mr. Holder, how are Mr. Bout and Mr. Yaroshenko faring after you illegally renditioned them from third countries? Rule of law? Only when it is convenient for you and those in power. Mr. Snowden exposed your illegality, as did I and we know what happens to those who expose the illegality of the Imperial United States of America. Just ask Julian Assange.
And lastly, just in case Mr. Holder was not aware: The Russian Government knows what you are up to better than you think Mr. Holder, Russian officials and the Russian Government are not fools, after all Mr. Snowden won’t be the first American who has received asylum in Russia due to the illegality of the American state. He won’t be the first, because actually, I was.
The opinions and views expressed here are my own I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
AG Holder promises Russia not to torture Snowden
I have been deeply ashamed of my country a number of times. The Nixon Christmas bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong was one such time, when hospitals, schools and dikes were targeted. The invasion of Iraq was another. Washington’s silence over the fatal Israeli Commando raid on the Gaza Peace Flotilla–in which a 19-year-old unarmed American boy was murdered–was a third. But I think I have never been as ashamed and disgusted as I was today reading that US Attorney General Eric Holder had sent a letter to the Russian minister of justice saying that the US would “not seek the death penalty” in its espionage case against National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, promising that even if the US later brought added charges against Snowden after obtaining him, they would not include any death penalty, and vowing that if Snowden were handed over by Russia to the US, he would “not be tortured.”
So it has come to this: That the United States has to promise (to Russia!) that it will not torture a prisoner in its control — a US citizen at that — and so therefore that person, Edward Snowden, has no basis for claiming that he should be “treated as a refugee or granted asylum.”
Why does Holder have to make these pathetic representations to his counterpart in Russia?
Because Snowden has applied for asylum saying that he is at risk of torture or execution if returned to the US to face charges for leaking documents showing that the US government is massively violating the civil liberties and privacy of every American by monitoring every American’s electronic communications.
Snowden has made that claim in seeking asylum because he knows that another whistleblower, Pvt. Bradley Manning, was in fact tortured by the US for months, and held without trial in solitary confinement for over a year before being finally put on trial in a kangaroo court, where the judge is as much prosecutor as jurist, and where his guilt was declared in advance by the President of the United States — the same president who has also already publicly declared Snowden guilty too.
It is incredibly shameful that we US citizens have to admit that we live in a country that tortures its prisoners, that casually executes people who are mentally retarded, who are innocent, who had defense attorneys who slept through their clients’ trials, whose prosecutors slept with the judge, who were denied access to DNA evidence that could have proven their innocence, or who were convicted based upon the lies of prosecutors and prosecution witnesses.
This country’s “justice” system has become so perverted and politically tainted that the rest of the world, including Russia, knows that Snowden is telling the truth when he says he cannot hope to receive a fair trial here. Indeed, Congress has passed laws, and the President has signed laws, giving this government the power to lock someone like Snowden up indefinitely without trial, to torture him, and even to kill him, not through a jury decision on capital punishment, but simply on the basis of a secret “finding” by the President that he has aided or abetted terrorism.
No wonder Russia and several other countries, including Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua, have offered or are considering offering Snowden asylum.
And no wonder that, in its obsession with getting its tyrannical hands on him, this government is willing to promise (for what a promise from the US government is worth) not to kill him or torture him.
Shame and anger are the only appropriate responses to that letter from Holder.
If this were a country that honored the rule of law, Attorney General Holder would not need to promise not to torture. He would need only to point to the US Constitution, with its ban on “cruel and unusual punishment.” He would not need to promise a fair trial to Snowden, with no capital punishment on any charges. He could point instead to the Constitution’s promise of a presumption of innocence and of a public trial by a jury of the accused’s peers, to make the case against the granting of asylum.
In such a country, someone like Snowden, with the help of a crack legal team, would have a fair shot at proving to a jury his innocence of the government’s frivolous espionage charges. He’d have a fair chance of convincing at least one juror of his absolute innocence of any crime, making his conviction impossible.
But that is not what this country is, especially today.
In today’s US courts, we know the “Justice” Department would seek to bar testimony about Snowden’s motives in leaking the documents he downloaded from the NSA’s computers. They would ask the judge to limit defense arguments and testimony in the case to the narrow issue of whether or not he downloaded and leaked files, not to whether those files exposed Constitutional violations and needed to be brought to the public’s attention. Our judges, nominated by presidents and confirmed by senators, Democrat and Republican, who want jurists who favor government secrecy and who generally side with the government against the people, can be counted on to grant the government’s motions.
In such circumstances, a defendant like Snowden, facing charges of espionage or theft of government secrets, has no ability to defend himself. The trial would be like in a Lewis Carroll event: “Verdict first, trial later!”
Hopefully President Vladimir Putin will not be pressured by the US into pretending that Snowden has nothing to fear in going back to face “justice” in the US.
It is bad enough that we Americans have to hang our heads in shame as our Attorney General pretends, against all evidence to the contrary, that there is still a fair legal system operating in the US, and that the US respects human rights and the rule of law.
We should not have to also endure yet another kangaroo court trial, this time of Edward Snowden.
Snowden should be granted asylum in Russia, or should be allowed to travel to one of the other countries of his choice that have had the courage to offer him asylum.
If we’re going to have trials on the issue of spying in the US, let them be of Holder himself, and of President Obama.
The House Judiciary Committee is investigating whether Attorney General Eric Holder lied under oath during his May 15 testimony on the Justice Department’s (DOJ) surveillance of reporters.
The panel is looking at a statement Holder made during a back-and-forth with Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) about whether the DOJ could prosecute reporters under the Espionage Act of 1917, an aide close to the matter told The Hill.
“In regard to potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material — this is not something I’ve ever been involved in, heard of, or would think would be wise policy,” Holder said during the hearing.
However, NBC News reported the following week that Holder personally approved a search warrant that labeled Fox News chief Washington correspondent James Rosen a co-conspirator in a national security leaks case.
The panel is investigating whether NBC’s report contradicts Holder’s claim that he had not looked into or been involved with a possible prosecution of the press in a leaks case.
The May 15 Judiciary hearing was held after The Associated Press revealed Justice had secretly subpoenaed its phone records in a separate leaks investigation.
Justice did not return a request for comment, but Johnson on Tuesday defended Holder, arguing his statement was specific to Johnson’s line of questioning about the Espionage Act and not meant to pertain to other investigations.
“The attorney general’s statement that no journalists have been prosecuted under the Espionage Act during his tenure is accurate,” he told The Hill.
Johnson said he raised the Espionage Act issue because he believes the law could be misused to target reporters due to the way it was written. He argued it should be changed.
“Congress is responsible for protecting the press while giving law enforcement the tools to prosecute officials who leak classified information,” Johnson said. “I support considering amendments to the Espionage Act and passing the Free Flow of Information Act to refine this balance.”
Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, told The Hill that Holder was “forthright” with the panel and that there was “no need to turn a policy disagreement into allegations of misconduct.”
But Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (Wis.), the second-ranking Judiciary Committee Republican, told The Hill that Holder should resign.
He accused the attorney general of misleading the panel during the investigation of the “Fast and Furious” gun-walking operation, and again when he claimed to not know about the AP probe.
“As we saw in Fast and Furious and are seeing now, Attorney General Holder refuses to hold himself accountable,” Sensenbrenner said. “He misled the Judiciary Committee under oath when he said he had not heard about Fast and Furious and he misled us again when he claimed to be unaware of the AP scandal. The head of DOJ should be someone the American people can trust. Attorney General Holder should resign.”
Justice’s probe into national security leaks is threatening to become the biggest controversy of Holder’s career.
President Obama last week said he was “troubled” by reports about the DOJ’s surveillance of reporters, and argued that journalists “should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs.”
He ordered Holder to review his department’s guidelines governing investigations that involve reporters. The DOJ will present its findings to the president on July 12.
A report in The Daily Beast over the weekend suggested Holder felt a sense of personal remorse over the aggressive tactics used in targeting the Fox News reporter. Citing aides close to Holder, the article said the Attorney General knew Justice would be besieged by questions about the two probes as he read a Washington Post story about the investigation of Rosen.
The DOJ seized Rosen’s personal emails and used other surveillance methods to investigate whether he was complicit in a leak of classified information. It also examined Rosen’s phone records and tracked his visits to the State Department using security-badge data during the 2009 probe.
Justice filed legal papers saying Rosen may have acted as “an aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator” by getting materials from a government official also under investigation.
The investigation was primarily focused on rooting out Rosen’s alleged source, a State Department worker who is facing federal charges for disclosing classified national security information and could see a trial as soon as next year. The DOJ has said it never intended to prosecute Rosen.
Some Republican senators have said Holder should not be in charge of reviewing his own department.
Speaking on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) called Holder’s review a “conflict of interest.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said a special counsel or some other independent body should be appointed to conduct the review.
The DOJ has also faced criticism over its seizure of phone records belonging to the AP. The news wire was never a target of that investigation.
The House voted to find Holder in contempt over his refusal to turn over documents to lawmakers on “Fast and Furious,” an operation in which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives purposely allowed guns to be illegally purchased in the United States and Mexico in the hope they could be tracked.
US Attorney General Eric Holder has claimed he was unaware of the subpoenas for AP’s phone records, but defended them as a necessary measure. Holder recused himself from the case that has been branded as an “unprecedented intrusion” into press freedom.
US lawmakers questioned the attorney general at a House Judiciary Committee about the two months of AP phone records obtained by the Justice Department without permission. In a session that saw the attorney on the back foot amid calls for his resign, he maintained his ignorance in the “ongoing matter.”
Flatly denying any prior knowledge to the subpoenas and who had issued them, he stated that he was 99 per cent sure that deputy attorney general James Cole had issued them.
“The matter is being supervised by the deputy attorney general. I am not familiar with the reasons why the subpoena was constructed in the way that it was because I’m simply not a part of the case,” Holder told the committee, adding he was confident that the people who are involved in the investigation adhered to Justice Department regulations.
Investigators wish to discern why it was necessary to gather so much information from AP phone records. The Justice Departments claims that the records were seized as part of an investigation into leaked data on a CIA operation in Yemen to stop an airliner bombing plot on the anniversary of the death of Osama Bin Laden.
Holder stressed that the leak was very serious and had put the safety of the American people at risk and as such the Justice Department’s action was justified.
Passing the buck
The Justice Department admitted its surveillance of AP’s phone lines in a letter to the organization’s heads last Friday. AP’s Chief Gary Pruitt reacted with ire, condemning the intrusion as a gross violation of press freedom that is inexcusable. AP estimates that over 100 of its journalists were affected by the phone surveillance and has implicated the involvement of the attorney general, alleging that subpoenas require his signature to be carried out.
There was a degree of frustration at Holder’s answers during the hearing due to his inability to answer questions on the subpoenas and why the Justice Department failed to negotiate with AP prior to the subpoenas, which is usually standard practice in such situations.
“There doesn’t appear to be any acceptance of responsibility for things that have gone wrong,” Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., told Holder. He suggested that Justice Department office should stop by Harry S Truman Presidential Library and take a photo of the famous sign, “The buck stops here.”
The White House has also claimed ignorance, stating that it had no knowledge of “any attempt by the Justice Department to seek phone records of the AP.”
Federal prosecutors secretly obtained two months’ worth of telephone records of Associated Press journalists in what the news agency described Monday as a “massive and unprecedented intrusion.”
The Justice Department notified the AP on Friday that it had subpoenaed the records, which included more than 20 office, cellphone and home phone lines. The lines include the general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and the number for AP reporters in the House of Representatives press gallery.
The records included outgoing call numbers, the AP said, but it is unclear whether prosecutors also obtained incoming call numbers or the duration of calls. The news organization said it had no reason to think that the government listened in to the content of the calls. The government did not reveal why it seized the records, but the AP noted that federal officials have previously said they were investigating who had leaked information to the news service about a foiled terror plot in 2012. An AP story in May 2012 included details about a CIA operation in Yemen targeting al Qaeda operatives.
AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt called the action “a serious interference with AP’s constitutional rights to gather and report the news.”
Republicans were quick to criticize the Department of Justice (DOJ), saying that the invasion of privacy of a news outlet was just the latest example of an administration rife with problems. News of the AP probe broke as the White House is already fending off criticism of its handling of last year’s attacks on the embassy in Benghazi, Libya, and the revelation that the Internal Revenue Service had targeted conservative and Tea Party groups.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) called the DOJ subpoena “very disturbing” and said he expected to team up with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) to probe the issue further.
“If this question went to the Attorney General then he’s responsible and he should be held accountable for what I think is wrong,” Issa said on CNN. “On the other hand, if it didn’t go to him, the question is: when is the Justice Department going to take responsibility for what it does?
“There are serious problems at DOJ, this is just the latest one.”
Department policy requires that the attorney general sign off on all requests for reporter phone records. It is unclear whether Attorney General Eric Holder signed off in this case.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), the chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Justice budget, said the department’s move was reminiscent of the wiretapping authorized by former President Nixon’s administration.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Wolf in an interview with The Hill after news of the story broke. “It kind of reminds you of the mid-70s.”
“It is the arrogance of power and paranoia. I think it’s shocking. It reminds me of the Nixon days. If they can do it to the AP, they can do to any news service in the country.”
Criticism also came from the left.
“The media’s purpose is to keep the public informed and it should be free to do so without the threat of unwarranted surveillance,” Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington Office, said in a statement. “The Attorney General must explain the Justice Department’s actions to the public so that we can make sure this kind of press intimidation does not happen again.”
The AP’s Pruitt sent a letter on Monday to Holder protesting the seizure of records, demanding that the government return the call records to the AP and destroy its copies.
“There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters,” Pruitt said.
“These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP’s newsgathering operations, and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know.”
Federal regulations require that subpoenas for a reporter’s phone records be as “narrowly drawn as possible.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney referred questions about the probe to the Justice Department.
In a statement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia said it takes its legal obligations and department policies seriously when subpoenaing media phone records.
“Those regulations require us to make every reasonable effort to obtain information through alternative means before even considering a subpoena for the phone records of a member of the media,” the office said. “We must notify the media organization in advance unless doing so would pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation.
“Because we value the freedom of the press, we are always careful and deliberative in seeking to strike the right balance between the public interest in the free flow of information and the public interest in the fair and effective administration of our criminal laws,” it said.
The FBI revealed in 2008 that it had subpoenaed the phone records of New York Times and Washington Post reporters in Indonesia as part of a terrorism investigation. The agency apologized for the incident, saying it failed to follow department policies.
Goodlatte said he planned to ask Holder “pointed questions” about the AP records on Wednesday when the attorney general is slated to testify during a general Judiciary oversight hearing.
“Any abridgement of the First Amendment right to the freedom of the press is very concerning,” said Goodlatte in a statement.
“The House Judiciary Committee will thoroughly investigate this issue and will also ask Attorney General Eric Holder pointed questions about it at Wednesday’s oversight hearing,” he said.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) also said he would be probing the issue further and looking into whether the government may have overstepped its bounds.
“The burden is always on the government when they go after private information – especially information regarding the press or its confidential sources,” said Leahy in a statement. “I want to know more about this case, but on the face of it, I am concerned that the government may not have met that burden. I am very troubled by these allegations and want to hear the government’s explanation.”
(photo: U.S. Air Force)
Apparently stung by mounting criticism of its remote control assassination program, the Obama administration early this month secretly reneged on an Air Force promise to “provide more detailed information on [drone operations] in Afghanistan” by failing to provide data on drone strikes for February. And in an Orwellian twist, the Air Force removed the previously released data on drone strikes from the reports for October 2012 to January 2013.
According to the data, the Air Force actually relies more heavily on piloted aircraft to conduct airstrikes, with drones responsible for only about one-quarter of missiles fired. The data shows that the Air Force conducted 1,366 drone strikes in Afghanistan between 2009 and January 2013. Although casualty figures were omitted, it is known that the U.S. has killed between 3,049 and 4,376 civilians in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia during about 500 “covert” drone strikes, including at least 179 children—the equivalent of 9 Newtown child massacres.
Indeed, parents who have seen their children killed by U.S. bombs don’t care if the person who pushed the button that released the bomb was inside an airplane or in a control room thousands of miles away.
The “sanitized” reports without the drone strike data were created on February 22, just two days after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) threatened to filibuster the nomination of John Brennan to be CIA Director over Paul’s concerns that the Obama administration believed it had the authority to use drone strikes inside the U.S. Joined by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), Paul filibustered for almost 13 hours, finally getting a denial from Attorney General Eric Holder that this administration believes it has such authority.
Although the Defense Department released a statement claiming the data was removed to make the reports more accurate in light of the unsupported assertion that most drone operations do not include strikes, the Pentagon also took pains to state that it was not involved in the decision to hide the data. That can only mean that the decision came straight from the White House—almost certainly from President Obama himself, who, ironically, promised in 2008 to run the federal government in a more open and transparent manner.
- US Air Force scrubs drone strike data from reports (alethonews.wordpress.com)