Senators Ask DOJ: Is Wall Street Really “Too Big to Jail”?


January 29, 2013
Watch The Untouchables, FRONTLINE’s look at why no Wall Street executives have been prosecuted for fraud in connection with the financial crisis.

Two U.S. senators sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder today, questioning the action the Justice Department has taken so far against major banks for their role in the financial crisis.

Sens. Sherrod Brown, the Democrat Chairman of the Banking Committee, and Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican who is a ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, said in the letter that the settlements that had taken place were “disproportionately low,” and led to concerns that Wall Street banks received preferential treatment.

The letter cited a recent FRONTLINE interview with outgoing Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, who defended the department’s approach to prosecutions so far in last week’s film, The Untouchables. Breuer told correspondent Martin Smith:

… if I bring a case against an institution, and as a result of bringing that case, there’s some huge economic effect — if it creates a ripple effect so that suddenly, counterparties and other financial institutions or other companies that had nothing to do with this are affected badly — it’s a factor we need to know and understand.

The letter also mentioned an additional statement in which the DOJ noted that it had consulted “experts” on how prosecuting financial institutions might impact the markets.

“These statements raise important questions about the Justice Department’s prosecutorial philosophy,” the senators wrote.

A Justice Department spokeswoman said in an email that officials had received the letter and were reviewing it.

The senators asked the DOJ to answer a list of questions, including whether the department has ever avoided bringing a prosecution against an institution out of concern that its failure could jeopardize the financial markets.

They also asked for the names of all outside experts the DOJ may have consulted in making prosecutorial decisions concerning financial institutions with more than $1 billion in assets, what those experts were paid, and how the DOJ ensured they offered unbiased advice.

“Our markets will only function efficiently if participants believe that all laws will be enforced consistently, and that violators will be punished to the fullest extent of the law,” the letter concluded. “There should not be one set of rules that apply to Wall Street and another set for the rest of us.”

The senators asked for a response by Feb. 8.

Grassley has been long been critical of the DOJ’s approach to Wall Street in the wake of the crisis. In The Untouchables, he told FRONTLINE: “I’m disappointed that in all of the wrongdoing that went on and all the fraud that went on, that there wasn’t an effort to go after bigger fish than the evidence shows they went after.”

Sarah Childress

Sarah Childress, Former Series Senior Editor, FRONTLINE

In order to foster a civil and literate discussion that respects all participants, FRONTLINE has the following guidelines for commentary. By submitting comments here, you are consenting to these rules:

Readers' comments that include profanity, obscenity, personal attacks, harassment, or are defamatory, sexist, racist, violate a third party's right to privacy, or are otherwise inappropriate, will be removed. Entries that are unsigned or are "signed" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. We reserve the right to not post comments that are more than 400 words. We will take steps to block users who repeatedly violate our commenting rules, terms of use, or privacy policies. You are fully responsible for your comments.

blog comments powered by Disqus

More Stories

What’s the Status of Healthcare for Women in Afghanistan Under the Taliban?
Before the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August 2021, many women and girls were already struggling to receive adequate healthcare. A year later, the situation has worsened, sources told FRONTLINE.
August 9, 2022
‘Say to the Whole World, They Don’t Let Us Talk’: Women Held for ‘Immoral Behavior’ at a Taliban Prison Speak Out
In the FRONTLINE documentary ‘Afghanistan Undercover,’ Ramita Navai reports the Taliban has jailed women for ‘immoral behavior’ and held them without trial. Watch an excerpt.
August 9, 2022
The Disconnect: Power, Politics and the Texas Blackout
In February 2021, days-long blackouts in Texas left millions shivering in the dark. Hundreds died. How has the Texas grid changed since then? And how has it changed how people think?
August 4, 2022
'You Feel Safe One Second and Then Boom': A Conversation With the Filmmakers of 'Ukraine: Life Under Russia's Attack'
The filmmakers of "Ukraine: Life Under Russia's Attack" spoke about documenting life under bombardment and why they felt it was important to bring this story to an American audience.
August 2, 2022