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, 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

Minneapolis drug case falls apart, raising questions about existence of secret informant
The case exposes the inherent conflict at the heart of confidential informants as a tool in American policing. In order to be effective, informants must be shrouded in secrecy. But that secrecy can make it impossible to tell how effective informants really are.
May 15, 2021
Derek Chauvin, three other ex-Minneapolis officers indicted by Justice Department on civil rights charges in killing of George Floyd
A federal grand jury has indicted four ex-Minneapolis police officers on charges of abusing their positions of authority to detain George Floyd, leading to his death last May.
May 7, 2021
FRONTLINE Earns Five Peabody Awards Nominations
Five FRONTLINE documentaries have been named 2021 George Foster Peabody Award finalists.
May 4, 2021
‘Escaping Eritrea’ Filmmaker Evan Williams Describes ‘Phenomenal Sacrifice’ of Eritreans Sneaking Footage Out of Country
'Escaping Eritrea' producer Evan Williams set out to learn what was driving so many Eritreans from their homeland. He found answers — as well as people trying to smuggle secret footage out of the country.
May 4, 2021