This Frontline episode I watched tonight is not for the faint of heart:
More than four years after the financial crisis, not one senior Wall Street executive has faced criminal prosecution for fraud.
Are Wall Street bankers simply “too big to jail?”
In The Untouchables, FRONTLINE producer and correspondent Martin Smith investigates why the U.S. Department of Justice has failed to act on credible evidence that Wall Street knowingly packaged and sold toxic mortgage loans to investors, loans that brought the U.S. and world economies to the brink of collapse.
Watch this episode and I swear to FSM you will want to choke Lanny Breuer.
It’s an eminence front. It’s a put-on.
Jump! You Fuckers.
Is this one of those found-footage horror movies?
Admittedly OT, but Dan Drezner has too much fun fisking the latest Thom Freidman dangerous inanity.
’cause I gotta have fun this time of night, not get mad all over again at the banksters.
ETA: and what Violet says.
I can only hope there is an afterlife and they pay there because they’re not going to pay here.
Since when do rich white people go to jail for anything? Jamie Dimon could skull fuck a 2 year old to death on national TV and only get 6 months in a minimum security resort as punishment.
Steal a little, go to jail. Steal a lot and you’re a titan of industry.
S’funny you say that since that is exactly what I wanted to do to Glenn Hubbard when he was interviewed on “Inside Job”.
There is one scenario where it may happen: when you rob other rich white people.
Ask Victor Madoff.
Taibii’s been running around with his hair on fire for years on this, but he uses “fuck” in his wordsmithing so he’s marginalized.
Does anyone seriously not know, still?
Higgs Boson's Mate
Apparently, the DOJ has yet to hear of it.
I can find you some acquaintances of mine who will swear up and down that Wall Street is innocent, down to the last man, and that the real criminals are Obama, Jimmy Carter, and Dianne Feinstein.
Funny thing is, these men do not stand to gain a single penny from Wall Street, but they’ll defend it to their last breath. At least political/finance crooks who cover for them have a rational excuse, if not a moral one.
The only thing that my Limbaugh-worshipping, redneck, alcoholic neighbor and I ever agreed on was that some of those banksters needed to do some serious jail time. I think that with a better political class in this country this is the one issue that could truly be bi-partisan with support from every corner of the American populace. Obviously them politicians are all bought and paid for by those criminals so it ain’t gonna happen.
This shit depresses the hell out of me, so I probably won’t watch it.
I know it’s not true, but I like to imagine that someone’s Tyler Durdened these guys–god, I hope they’ve consumed a lot of urine.
Maybe, someday, Ken Burns will do a show on it, too.
Yeah. And he’s identified the solution to the problem too;
“You put Lloyd Blankfein in pound-me-in-the-ass prison for one six-month term, and all this bullshit would stop, all over Wall Street,” says a former congressional aide. “That’s all it would take. Just once.”
Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/why-isnt-wall-street-in-jail-20110216#ixzz2ImftXC2a
The East will be rolling into theaters near you soon. It may be an antidote to some of the rage.
The prophet Nostradumbass
@AnonPhenom: yeah, there’s nothing quite like prison rape jokes.
Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN)
I will point out *again* that this is, at best, misleading. Senior executives *have* been prosecuted. Google Henry Samueli. Wall Street managers, if not top executives, *have* been prosecuted for exactly the kind of fraud that everyone wants to see them prosecuted for.
The problem is that they were acquitted. The chances of prosecutors ever having better evidence than they did in the Bear Stearns case is unlikely.
What people seem unable to accept is that *proving* financial fraud is extremely difficult. Some of that is due to the laws being lax, but a lot of it is simply the result of the basics of the American legal system. Just because we can all look at a set of events and be pretty damned sure that something illegal happened is a far cry from being able to prove that a specific individual willfully and knowingly (and both of those elements are essential to almost all fraud prosecutions) committed fraud. Common sense isn’t enough.
My biggest problem with Matt Taibbi isn’t that he says “fuck” a lot; that just indicates that he’s not that great a writer. My biggest problem with him is that he seems to believe that actually taking the time to understand what the legal definition of fraud is, and what it takes to prove it, isn’t worth the hassle. Such trivialities are beneath him. Therefore, he’s fucking useless when writing on the subject.
I like to think that the people around here are smarter than average, but the continued inability to grasp the basics of what are involved on this matter lends a good deal of evidence to the contrary.
@The prophet Nostradumbass:
agreed. Prison rape is one of the most fucked up things about the criminal justice system in America. It doesn’t help that folk wisdom just assumes that you have the chance to be raped if you go to jail and it’s basically okay if it happens. Nobody gets sentenced to ass raping. Maybe they actually deserve it, but that’s another story. It shouldn’t be part and parcel of the correctional system and we should be outraged about it rather than making jokes.
@Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN):
He’s absolutely right. His job isn’t to understand anything, it’s to get the morons worked up and generating pageviews. Complaining about Taibbi being a know nothing is almost as silly as citing him.
FWIW,I find the best way to get a good bipartisan Facebook circle jerk going is to post an article/video about bankers getting off scot free.
Honestly and truly, I blame Eliot Spitzer so much. Just keep your dick in your pants and who knows how far your influence might have spread, even to the WH. But she WAS hot, right???
Do I remember that Obama & McCain left the campaign trail & voted for TBTF & didn’t some @*%*+#/~*$!(; vote for one or the other.I don’t care about the arguments for the pros or cons of TBTF.
Any bailout,Fuck that.
If you can’t take care of business,you should be allowed to go out business. BUT,BUT,BUT, LIGAS
@Bnut: Spitzer was born rich. And thus, arrogant. It’s amazing we got what we got.
So, spreading the intent among executives of a large corporation prevents prosecution? Hmm, wonder how that happened.
The super-rich and their sponsored advocates have not only rigged the system in their favor, they’ve rigged it deeply and trenchantly and in layers and complexity rivaling that of highly evolved lifeforms.
Laws are written and interpreted and precedents set so that terms and charges are defined and limited and used as they would prefer, and when that is done well enough, we are all supposed to agree that any common moral accusation of wrong be explicitly discussed in the nanoscale fineness of the legal terms as engineered.
I am not shocked that those people are untouchable; RHIP. I did not expect a prosecution, even to set an example.
They are ‘too big to prosecute’.
WTF is wrong with Angelo Mozilo’s (Countrywide CEO until 2008) skin? He looks like ET with a short gray wig. Thanks for sharing, Cole.
White Trash Liberal
During the Bush years, the office that was assigned to oversee and audit these transactions had 9 employees. There is no way that the SEC had the power or resources at that time to accumulate any kind of evidence.
Derivatives and credit default swaps are legal. The mechanisms that were created to fix the system and bundle toxic assets into top-rated investments are legal. The adjustable rate mortgage is legal.
Prosecution isn’t designed to punish people for what wasn’t a crime. What we should be doing is lobbying for a domestic and international set of regulations that controls or outright bans the derivative market. Take what we know and push to fix things… But history is getting washed away and fewer people remember what happened.
Yeah, but the DOJ manages to put a case together on Aaron Schwarz and Don Siegelman manages to still sit in prison in Alabama where the DOJ can’t manage to find any wrongdoing inthat prosecution. The financial/Wall Street stuff is where I am super disappointed in Obama. I may be wrong but he does not seem to have one non Wall Streeter hard ass in any powerful position. Christine Roemer was ignored during her time in the admin.
Comrade Nimrod Humperdink
Lanny Breuer is a chickenshit. I get that it’s challenging work, and I REALLY get not wanting to lose to these smug fucking Masters of the Universe that stood on the shoulders of con men like fucking Mozilo. But God damn it, if nothing else that shit DOES leave a paper trail, a ginormous one in a lot of cases. But you had resources and public backing to get at least most of what you needed. Use it to dig and lean on people at least. Patrick Fucking Fitzgerald at least brought grand juries, even if he didn’t get quite enough to fry anyone except Scooter Libby. The right kind of heat on the right guy may have borne some fruit, and you know there’s a lot of people who worked in that world with axes to grind against the fuckers that brought it all crashing down.
Breuer whining about having to keep the fainting couch nearby everytime he thought about what the Street might do if somebody got indicted is just pitch perfect. This is regulatory capture. A gif of this guy shifting in his seat and sweating would be the first accompanying picture in the God damn definition of the term. Your taxpayer dollars at work.
It is not so obvious that criminal fraud was ongoing in this thing, and most of what happened was not. It was a classic bubble which usually is not based in criminal behavior.
Its a slippery slope thing which makes prosecution very difficult. If the deals were otherwise legal (which they were – they had been a financial staple for decades), when did they become illegal? When does the degree of risk creeping into the deals allegedly make them criminal?
There was open speculation as the bubble was inflated that the loans were potentially becoming toxic – the investors were not in the dark. That is why AIG played such a critical role – backstopping so many deals with what amounted to a performance guarantee. The sense of risk was dampened by the largest worldwide insurer standing behind the deals. This occurred because this type of de facto insurance is unregulated – enabling AIG to underwrite offerings many many times in excess of its ability to pay.
The biggest factor in the whole crash was the willingness of lenders and the true police for these loan standards (Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae) to throw all standards out the window in the name of creating more product to bundle into mortgage backed securities. As a result, vast sums were made available for home lending, and the loosened standards enabling many more to borrow, which drove up home prices and reinforced the bubble mentality. How could so much of the product be toxic in view of real estate values?
Some made a lot of money selling the mortgage backed securities short. Goldman Sachs watched this happening and jumped into that game late to hedge its own risk in the deal. It avoided prosecution for both selling short and selling the deals themselves because that sort of behavior is common and considered legal for investment houses – to be on both sides of deals. What got Goldman Sachs in big trouble was taking fees from the shorts to pack the offering with loans almost certainly toxic — while selling those same securities to its clients without disclosure of that arrangement. It paid a $550 million fine for that behavior.
Read the link put up in no. 18 above by Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN).
Comrade Nimrod Humperdink
@wasabi gasp: If anyone is ever bad-ass enough to win a massive class action suit (say, on behalf of institutional investors like pension funds) against these clowns, then I guarantee that will become the subject of book and film for years. I daresay that anyone who managed to take them TO TRIAL, even if they lost, might become something of a folk hero. The banks always settle, because no matter the final pricetag, it’s less damage than a public trial might rain down. The multi-billion dollar settlements between the SEC and the big banks, in which the banks admit no wrongdoing and nothing is ever disclosed publicly, just slay me.
There’s a reason you spend money for decades and decades getting the laws written in your favor and getting people who do what you want (or who do more of it than others) in charge of committees and such — it’s so that what you want to do, and in particular what would be most enriching, is legal.
Comrade Nimrod Humperdink
@White Trash Liberal:
THIS… Lloyd Blankfein not going to jail is infuriating but not necessarily the end of the world. Creating a worldwide set of regulations on derivatives wouldn’t be nearly the same kind of instant gratification, but it would be a much more constructive approach to the problem. Unfortunately, I think you’re more likely to see Lloyd in tears behind bars than to see even a real set of derivative market regulations take hold in the US, much less globally. Thanks again Mr. Andrea Mitchell.
Agreed. Somehow I found him much, much more despicable than e.g. that former Fed member.
That’s both true and misleading.
Most of what happened wasn’t criminal (even though it should have been).
But there was so much noxious shit going on that the claim that the number of actual indictments reasonably reflects the number of bona fide crimes committed is wrong.
@Comrade Nimrod Humperdink: Gigantic, destiny-altering sets of laws to set in stone policies preferred by large corporations and their investors (typically called “trade” or “free trade”) policies?
Now, those can be passed, entire political systems can be mobilized to do so.
Similar border-crossing laws to, well, restrain those parties from doing what they wish?
Now, let’s not be unrealistic here. Such things are complicated, and there are all sorts of things to coordinate, and anyway what with all the domestic politics in nation X or Y or Z, it’s so hard to get them to come to agree on anything, except those minor things mentioned earlier.
@Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN):
Which is precisely why statutes and regulations need to be drafted making these strict liability crimes.
Comrade Nimrod Humperdink
@El Cid: You had half a Mustache going there… I was waiting for the cab driver anecdote.
The problem is that if one suggests that the CDS market should either be promptly dismantled or slowly euthanized over time (due to some technical issues that Yves Smith for one has raised), the Wall St apologies will come out of the woodwork and whine about how important CDS is to the functioning of the market.
I used to real a pretty funny blog named “LOLFed”. I quit when the authors claimed that there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with CDS.
White Trash Liberal
Another piece of the puzzle not being discussed is the Tinkerbell Applause effect of the bubble. Just about everyone had holdings in subprime or alt-A backed derivatives. An entire market was created. Do you think the media would honestly report on what was happening? Thomas Friedman, just as a specific example, was married to a huge player in the whole scheme. How about the amount of money generated that was funneled into home repair, TV shows about home repair, the wave of sprawl gentrification, commercial properties being developed in the Temecula desert…
When the obvious consequence of people getting 18 months of zero interest property or refinancing under the dubious reasoning that values would rise forever dawned on people… We all started clapping harder. The story about subprime mortgages had been out for a couple years prior to Bear and Lehman… The truth was in plain sight. But an entire multi-trillion dollar market was in place, and nearly everyone had a stake in its preservation.
The entire Bush presidency was a prolonged Tinkerbell Applause. The Iraq War, Medicare Part D, No Child Left Behind, tax cuts, and the housing bubble. People were conned into believing in them to the point that they had to blindly applaud to keep them alive. To do otherwise was to be a dirty liberal and traitor to freedom.
@White Trash Liberal:
If we’re honest about things, though, the role of Bush in the bubble wasn’t all that great. The basic foundations were laid in the 1990s.
Ultimately, AFAICT it’s almost unanimous that Greenspan is Public Enemy #1 as far as the bubble was concerned. Bush has to rank way down there. I’d certainly put Uncle Miltie, who was one of the prime creators of the worship of the Free Market, way ahead of Bush. (Not that your point about Bush and Iraq and the other things is false.)
@Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN):
Yes, we all know you’re holier than thou, what with your advance accounting degree and all.
Comrade Nimrod Humperdink
@liberal: Alan Greenspan, Phil Gramm (with a nod to his wife and Ken Lay for that quaint little concern down Houston way and all the groundwork they laid for building it and what followed), and Bob Rubin are probably on the top of my own personal scapegoat list. Greenspan spent like 15 years telling everyone that would listen that derivatives were magic moneymakers that reduced risk. And because it was profitable to do so, everyone around him with any clout believed him.
The Commodities Modernization Act of 2000.
Wrong year , edit.
Forum Transmitted Disease
@Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN): Your post will be ignored by everyone here. They want a hanging, law be damned, and since they can’t have their hanging they’ll just whine a lot.
@Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN): I would have agreed with you on that until recently, but, as shown on Frontline, the real problem was a) Bush gutted the financial crimes unit of the FBI ta keep us safe fr’m th’ t’r’rsts resulting in a loss of both essential manpower and investigatory technical expertise, b) Breuer was cowed by the fear that our Galtian Overlord Masters of the Universe would crash the global economy their recklessness had made fragile if any of them were held accountable, and, c) they knew these fuckers would pull out all the stops, empty the treasuries of the companies they ran and pay it to buy every white collar crime law firm in New York if that’s what it took, to generate “reasonable doubt.”
I think there was also a misguided (IMO) concern that a string of acquittals would be even more morally corrosive and generate an even greater sense of impunity than not prosecuting them at all.
But it’s not a coincidence that it took a bunch of private lawyers looking for a gigantic payoff representing screwed counterparties to turn up the evidence and witnesses that the FBI couldn’t find.
Ted & Hellen
And yet, and yet…who is that Breuer works for? Whose his ultimate boss?
Come on, you can remember, John…
@RaflW: Drezner said ‘ Let me stipulate that I have no doubt that Mr. Friedman can polish off an accessible 800 word column on foreign affairs better than 99.5% of the foreign policy community. ‘
Which goes to show that Drezner is in the end an idiot.
@Comrade Nimrod Humperdink:
A reminder: Federal grand jury proceedings are secret. You don’t know what is or isn’t happening. Neither do I. Neither does anyone else not directly involved in the process.
For all any of us know, there could be an avalanche of indictments in 2013. Or not. We’ll see. These are not easy cases to put together.
You can argue that DOJ has over-reacted to losing the Bear Stearns cases, and has become too cautious. That’s a conversation I’m willing to have.
Ok, you’re so smart, explain what is so horrible about being able to hedge credit risk.
@White Trash Liberal:
There. Fixed that for ya.
Cue the fanatical obots to explain that the poor impotent helpless federal government is a pitiful insect unable to touch the might giants of Wall Street in…3…2…1…
These are the same obots, by the way, who dash off the toilet with their pants around their legs to defend to the death the Obama administration’s savagely vengeful prosecution of minor non-crimes like Aaron Swartz’s downloading of articles from JSTOR. That kind of hazy fuzzy non-crime provokes the full power and might of the entire federal government to crush the perpetrator — but robo-signing and counterparty fraud and trillions of dollars of fraudulent theft? No, no, nooooooooooooo, that’s not sufficient evidence to prosecute on. We need solid ironclad evidence on which to prosecute…like nebulous ill-defined terms of service for an online downloading company.
You obots are so cute. I can just picture you sitting at the tribunals explaining “This is not a trial. The charges have already been made and the guilt of the accused has been determined in secret. This is the sentencing phase, citizen…”
The obots are the guys who will stand behind the suspects who get lined up to kneel in front of a slit trench and get shot in the head, and explain sanctimoniously why (even though was no trial and the evidence was secret in America’s grand new “justice” system) it’s all perfectly legal.
I keep hoping that someday you’ll show some sign of being able to engage in rational thought, and tell the difference between fact and fantasy.
Today is apparently not that day.
A worked example of prosecuting a complicated financial fraud case happened in Britain a few years back. The jury had been sitting for nearly two years listening to the arcane and convoluted evidence to convince them that a) a crime had actually been committed and b) the defendants were singly and multiply guilty of those crimes. At this point a third juror quit and there were no longer enough jurymembers left to provide a legally binding verdict. It cost the government five years and over forty million pounds to investigate, bring charges and to prosecute and it all went up in smoke.
I think US TV legal shows make it look easy; each case gets done and dusted in an hour, two at most complete with commercial breaks, and this leads folks to think that prosecuting complicated fraud cases would be as easy. It would, if real life obeyed Hollywood script rules but it doesn’t.
Justice Department has bigger fish to fry like pot growers in Cali and Online Poker.
White Trash Liberal
@mclaren: I don’t need your “pox on both houses” edits, thank you.
While the consolidations and mergers were sped along by Clinton, the actual derivatives crisis was engineered, incubated, and unleashed by Bush and his cronies. I mean, you don’t have to believe me. Taibbi already developed the chronology and the beginnings lie with JP Morgan whiz kids in 2002.
I was bringing up the Tinkerbell Applause because I see it is a hallmark of that particular president’s methodology. In the aftermath of 9/11, fantasies of prosperity and global enemies were concocted entirely from artifice. And while the nature of these cons are built from bipartisan initiative, the manner by which they were delivered and their consequence are particular to the Bush years.
I know the far left has a vested interest in showing the two party apparatus as two wings of the same corporate menace, there is only one president in my lifetime who was the quintessence of what is worst in our society. I single him out because his era is of particular importance yet both the right and left want to make him fade for different but equally selfish reasons.
White Trash Liberal
And mclaren, no one has suggested we need iron clad evidence. That is a straw man worthy of George Bush.
What I am saying is that what was done was largely legal and for the most part still is legal. Addressing reform by accurately defining the problems and addressing them locally and internationally is what is necessary. Warren Buffet warned of derivatives decades ago while Greenspan was touting them as an important tool for growth.
Just because I am not taking up my cudgel and smashing Obama over the head doesn’t make me wrong, just as much as your spittle-flecked ragegasms don’t make you correct. Perhaps instead of approaching everything from outrage and treating the community as a prophet treats Zion, you can shut your mouth and open your mind.
Rob in DC
People continue to ignore Sarbanes Oxley, a strict liability statute, which would nail every CEO on Wall Street if the government was interested in bringing Sarbox indictments.
The Obama DOJ is not only his Achilles heel, but literally a poisonous root which irrevocably taints his whole presidency. In hindsight his presidency will be judged harshly based on this own department alone. Eric Holder deserves to be impeached along with Breuer. And it is not for their affirmative scandals (there are the obvious ones and the less well known), but for their omissions.
Failure to prosecute Wall Street (in whatever way feasible such as Sarbox and, honestly, this nonsense about fraud being difficult to prove is absolute, complete, bullshit as can be seen by frequent SEC and DOJ NPAs and DPAs) and torturers from the Bush Administration is an unforgivable moral failure that falls squarely on Obama. The election is over now, we can remind ourselves just how bad off we are that this President is considered our best hope. Hilarious.
Corner Store Operator
I feel like this says it all about Breuer…
“Prior to becoming Assistant Attorney General, Breuer was a partner in the Washington law firm of Covington & Burling LLP and the co-chairman of its white-collar defense and investigations practice group. Breuer was best known for his work representing the subjects of congressional investigations.”
@magurakurin: I’m with you on that. I don’t see the rise of PrisonInc doing much to stop it, either.
Having said that, the penalties are not high enough to make the greedies think twice. Serving a sentence in a real ‘murican prison might change that.
Madoff did get beaten-up. I’m curious if he pays out a lot of protection money, or if that is just some fictional notion I am entertaining?
If there is any justice, it will probably come from civil lawsuits. “Nuclear holocaust” is one of the names Morgan Stanley was using for one of their CDOs: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/01/23/financial-crisis-lawsuit-suggests-bad-behavior-at-morgan-stanley/?hp
@Rob in DC:
If you’re referring to the certification requirement in Section 302, it’s not strict liability. There is a knowledge requirement. See 18 U.S.C. sec. 1350(c)(1).
@Rob in DC:
Say what, now? Umm, in the reality-based world, when the SEC or DOJ enters into a DPA, it’s an implicit acknowledgement that there are problems with the case, and they are taking what they can get from the target.
Although they don’t involve alleged securities-law violations, the KPMG and Hilfiger DPAs are perfect examples. The government couldn’t have won either of those cases, so they settled for behavior-modification and money. KPMG paid a fine, fired some bad guys, and put in an external monitor to help it clean up its act. Hilfiger agreed to file amended returns (on which it paid many millions of dollars of additional tax) and got new tax advisors.
@Corner Store Operator:
If you think you can name someone who is actually qualified for that AAG job who has never been in private practice, feel free to try. I can think of a half dozen lawyers who I think are more qualified than Breuer (starting with Mary Jo White), but they are or have been all partners in big law firms in between stints at DOJ.
Eric the Fruit Bat
BREAKING: Breuer out in DOJ!
And yet, the so called “Patriots” ranting about the second amendment are mum on this subject.