Carl Levin is one of the few people in DC who has tried to hold banks accountable — in his case, via investigations conducted at the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Never mind that DOJ has serially taken his investigations and, seemingly, wiped their ass with them for all the banksters who have been held accountable as a result.
One particularly noteworthy ass-wiping came after Levin referred Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein to DOJ for lying to his customers and, more importantly, to Congress. To him.
The chairman of the U.S. Senate’s investigative subcommittee said he believes Goldman Sachs officials made misleading statements about their trading during the financial crisis and should be investigated criminally.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said on Wednesday that he plans to refer Goldman officials, and potentially officials from other organizations, to the Justice Department for possible prosecution and to the Securities and Exchange Commission for possible civil proceedings.
“In my judgment, Goldman clearly misled their clients and they misled the Congress,” said Levin, the chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
“We will be referring this matter to the Justice Department and the SEC,” Levin said.
DOJ did what it does — which apparently includes chatting up CEOs — while it is pretending to investigate when it is actually wiping its ass. Then after a year it decided it wasn’t going to prosecute Blankfein.
Still. Just over 2 years ago, Carl Levin believed that when people, even very powerful people, lie to Congress, DOJ should at least consider prosecuting them.
Levin also said he was still “troubled” by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee that the NSA did not collect data on millions of Americans.
“I’m troubled by that testimony, obviously. I don’t know how he’s tried to wiggle out from it, but I’m troubled by it,” Levin said. “How you hold him accountable, I guess the only way to do that would be for the president to somehow or other fire him.”
But, Levin added, “I think he’s made it clear that he regrets saying what he said, and I don’t want to call on the president to fire him although I am troubled by it.”
Golly! Clapper regrets what he said (or rather, that he got caught saying it?). So rather than suggesting we hold Clapper accountable the way Levin tried to do with Blankfein, he instead thinks maybe if the President feels like it on his own because Levin himself isn’t going to call on him to do this, Obama should “somehow or other fire” Clapper.
DOJ has been doing a lot of immunizing of late. There’s Lloyd Blankfein, who not only ripped off his clients with “one shitty deal,” he then lied to Congress about it. There’s Matt Zirbel,* the CIA officer who had Gul Rahman doused with water and left to freeze to death in the Salt Pit. And there’s Joe Arpaio, who used the Maricopa County Sherriff’s office to investigate his political enemies.
DOJ immunized all these men in the last month, in spite of a vast amount of publicly available evidence clearly showing their crimes. And while DOJ had the courage to announce their decision about Blankfein and Goldman Sachs on a typical news day, not so their announcements about Zirbel and Arpaio–DOJ slipped those announcements into the journalistic distraction of Paul Ryan’s dishonest speech and Clint Eastwood’s empty chair, and the more generalized distraction of an imminent holiday weekend.
But with these grants of immunity, DOJ cleared the board of most of the politically contentious cases of immunized criminals just in time for election season. The Goldman banksters could donate with no worries, the NatSec types wouldn’t pull an October surprise, and Republicans couldn’t claim Arpaio was caught in a witch hunt because of the witch hunts he himself conducted.
DOJ cleared most, though not all, of the politically contentious cases they plan to clear though. The exception may prove the rule.
By now you’ve heard that Goldman Sachs will not be prosecuted for lying to its customers and having its CEO lie to Congress.
“The department and investigative agencies ultimately concluded that the burden of proof to bring a criminal case could not be met based on the law and facts as they exist at this time,” the department said.
Mind you, it’s not a surprise that Lloyd Blankfein wasn’t prosecuted. That’s because DOJ basically rewrote law in the last couple of years to make sure Scott Bloch, the former Special Counsel, would do no jail time for lying to Congress. As a result they’ve basically taken that inconvenient law off the books. As Congress continues to pursue DOJ for Fast and Furious, I’m sure that’s a comforting thought for some in the Department.
Still, let’s pretend for a moment that DOJ really didn’t believe they could prosecute this case.
That leaves us at a place where actual people are subject to the rule of law but corporations–because DOJ is simply helpless, helpless!! against those big bad corporations–are not. If DOJ really refuses to prosecute any corporations for the very same crimes they’re imprisoning actual people for, it needs to start considering how it is rushing our country headlong toward Banana Republic status. That is, if it can’t or won’t prosecute corporations but–perhaps to justify taking a salary until such time the prosecutors check out and join the corporations they’ve set free–still jails the little people, then DOJ has become just another cog in the machine slowly turning our great democracy into a NeoFeudal land.
This whole video is worth watching. Eliot Spitzer, former US Attorney Mary Jo White, and Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer discuss financial crimes, with SIGTARP head Neil Barofsky moderating. I was fairly troubled, in general, of the hesitations White and Breuer expressed over actually prosecuting financial crime.
But I found the passage just after 46:00, where Lanny Breuer argues you don’t need prosecutions for deterrence among CEOs, to be stunning.
Look, I want to be clear, I don’t want to suggest for a moment that we don’t–and we will–aggressively pursue cases criminally but, I guess both as a defense lawyer, which I was for many years, a white collar defense lawyer and now as AAG, I don’t think we should completely discount the deterrent effect when we investigate cases even if we don’t bring them.
If a CEO or CFO of a major institution feels that he or she is subject to criminal liability, when we interview them or put them in the grand jury, they have lawyers and this is hanging over their head for years and years. It may be at the end we decide not to prosecute the company or the individual but I think it’s really inaccurate to suggest that that doesn’t have a very strong effect. I’m not sure CEOs on Wall Street right now feel as if they can do what they want and there’s no deterrence.
He returns to a discussion of “going in and out” between corporate representation and DOJ after 52:00 and he avoids talking about robo-signing at 1:00.
As you read that, think about what has happened with Lloyd Blankfein. He bullshitted Carl Levin’s investigatory committee back in April 2010. Levin released a report last year stating he had lied, and referred his investigation to DOJ.
And Lloyd Blankfein, who almost two years ago didn’t take Congress sufficiently seriously to tell the truth, is still running around free profiting off of European countries’ debts.
Does Breuer really think seeing Blankfein treat Congress and regulators with utter disdain served as a deterrent to anyone? On the contrary, what appears to have been Lanny’s Chatting Accountability for CEOs only serves to show that these MOTUs are above the law.
Robert Mueller addressed the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco today. He repeated a familiar theme: the biggest threats to the United States are terrorists (even aspirational ones), spies, and cyber attacks.
Terrorism, espionage, and cyber attacks are the FBI’s top priorities. Terrorists, spies, and hackers are always thinking of new ways to harm us.
As he tends to do when spreading this propaganda, Mueller once again focused on Anna Chapman and her band of suburban spies.
Consider the arrest last year of 10 agents of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service. Many of you may have seen TV news stories and videos covering the techniques we used in our investigation, code-named Ghost Stories. It featured the stuff of a John Le Carré novel—dead-drops in train tunnels, brush passes at night, and clandestine meetings in cafés.
Though he did add the example of Kexue Huang, who sent information on organic pesticides and food to Germany and China, to his list of scary spies who threaten our country.
Last month, Kexue Huang, a former scientist for two of America’s largest agricultural companies, pled guilty to charges that he sent trade secrets to his native China.
While working at Dow AgriSciences and later at Cargill, Huang became a research leader in biotechnology and the development of organic pesticides. Although he had signed non-disclosure agreements, he transferred stolen trade secrets from both companies to persons in Germany and China. His criminal conduct cost Dow and Cargill millions of dollars.
Finally, Mueller added a neat new twist to his list of people who pose a big threat to this country. The hackers who hacked into the BART website after BART cops killed the unarmed Oscar Grant and later Charles Blair Hill, and after BART shut down cell service to interrupt free speech will bring anarchy!
And “hacktivist” groups are pioneering their own forms of digital anarchy. Here in the Bay Area, you witnessed their work firsthand when individuals hacked the BART website and released personal data of BART customers.
Because it’s not anarchy when cops shoot unarmed or drunk men. It’s not anarchy when transit companies unilaterally shut down your phone. It’s only anarchy when the hackers get involved.
You’ll note what’s missing, as it always is, from Mueller’s list of scary threats to the country? Not a peep about the banksters whose systematic fraud has done–and continues to do–far more financial damage than 9/11.
It’s anarchy, apparently, when bunch of kids break into a website. But it’s not anarchy when banksters rewrite property law to steal the homes of millions of Americans.
There’s a lot to loathe about the current incarnation of the Senate, that elite club of millionaires where legislation goes to either get rewritten to serve corporate interests or killed.
What does that say about DOJ, then, that the Senate is doing such a better job at investigating crimes? In just one month’s time the Senate has produced two investigations that have left DOJ–and the SEC and FEC–looking toothless by comparison.
Here is where the supporters of Goldman and other big banks will stand up and start wanding the air full of confusing terms like “scienter” and “loss causation” — legalese mumbo jumbo that attempts to convince the ignorantly enraged onlooker that, according to American law, these grotesque tales of grand theft and fraud you’ve just heard are actually more innocent than you think. Yes, they will say, it may very well be a prosecutable crime for a corner-store Arab to take $2 from a customer selling tap water as Perrier. But that does not mean it’s a crime for Goldman Sachs to take $100 million from a foreign hedge fund doing the same thing! No, sir, not at all! Then you’ll be told that the Supreme Court has been limiting corporate liability for fraud for decades, that in order to gain a conviction one must prove a conscious intent to deceive, that the 1976 ruling in Ernst and Ernst clearly states….Leave all that aside for a moment. Though many legal experts agree there is a powerful argument that the Levin report supports a criminal charge of fraud, this stuff can keep the lawyers tied up for years. So let’s move on to something much simpler. In the spring of 2010, about a year into his investigation, Sen. Levin hauled all of the principals from these rotten Goldman deals to Washington, made them put their hands on the Bible and take oaths just like normal people, and demanded that they explain themselves. The legal definition of financial fraud may be murky and complex, but everybody knows you can’t lie to Congress.
“Article 18 of the United States Code, Section 1001,” says Loyola University law professor Michael Kaufman. “There are statutes that prohibit perjury and obstruction of justice, but this is the federal statute that explicitly prohibits lying to Congress.”
The law is simple: You’re guilty if you “knowingly and willfully” make a “materially false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or representation.” The punishment is up to five years in federal prison.
When Roger Clemens went to Washington and denied taking a shot of steroids in his ass, the feds indicted him — relying not on a year’s worth of graphically self-incriminating e-mails, but chiefly on the testimony of a single individual who had been given a deal by the government. Yet the Justice Department has shown no such prosecutorial zeal since April 27th of last year, when the Goldman executives who oversaw the Timberwolf, Hudson and Abacus deals arrived on the Hill and one by one — each seemingly wearing the same mask of faint boredom and irritated condescension — sat before Levin’s committee and dodged volleys of questions.
Lloyd Blankfein went to Washington and testified under oath that Goldman Sachs didn’t make a massive short bet and didn’t bet against its clients. The Levin report proves that Goldman spent the whole summer of 2007 riding a “big short” and took a multibillion-dollar bet against its clients, a bet that incidentally made them enormous profits. Are we all missing something? Is there some different and higher standard of triple- and quadruple-lying that applies to bank CEOs but not to baseball players?
Then there’s the investigation of John Ensign. Scott Horton lambastes DOJ’s decision to indict Ensign’s cuckold but not Ensign himself.
Alarmingly, the Justice Department not only failed to act against Ensign, it actually indicted Doug Hampton, Ensign’s former senior staffer, who was clearly a victim of Ensign’s predatory conduct and who had blown the whistle on him. The new report does suggest that Hampton may have engaged in improper lobbying activities, with Ensign’s connivance. But it also makes clear that Hampton’s statements about what happened were truthful and complete, whereas Ensign’s were often cleverly misleading, and sometimes rank falsehoods. In this context, the Justice Department’s decision—to prosecute the victim who spoke with candor and against his own interests, and let the malefactor who lied about his conduct go free—is perverse. It is also completely in line with recent Justice Department pubic integrity prosecutions, which have displayed an unseemly appetite for political intrigue and an irrepressible desire to accommodate the powerful.
And the NYT writes a more sheepish article featuring both an FEC official who apparently wouldn’t go on the record with his shock–shock! that
there was gambling going on in the casino someone lied to the FEC.
An election commission official, who asked not to be identified while the case was pending, acknowledged that the commission took the senator at his word, whereas the Senate dug deeper. This official expressed anger to learn the true circumstances behind the $96,000 payment.
“I hate it when people lie to us,” the official said, adding: “If somebody submits a sworn affidavit, we usually do not go back and question it, unless we have something else to go on. Maybe we should not be so trusting.”
The NYT also cites several legal experts attributing DOJ’s impotence to embarrassment over the Ted Stevens trial (without, at the same time, wondering why William Welch is still at DOJ acting just as recklessly, only this time against whistleblowers and other leakers).
Several of these reviews of DOJ’s failure to act wonder why the understaffed Senate Ethics Committee or Levin’s Permanent Committee on Investigations–again, this is the hapless Senate!–managed to find so much dirt that the better staffed DOJ and regulatory bodies did not.
But Taibbi really gets at the underlying issue.
If the Justice Department fails to give the American people a chance to judge this case — if Goldman skates without so much as a trial — it will confirm once and for all the embarrassing truth: that the law in America is subjective, and crime is defined not by what you did, but by who you are.
These two Senate committees did an excellent job mapping out the crimes of the powerful. But unless we see action from DOJ, the committees will also have, by comparison, mapped out the stark truth that DOJ refuses to apply the same laws we peons abide by to those powerful people.
The NYT has what I assume to be a bizarre form of beat sweetener on Goldman Sachs today. It spends most of 1,300 words speculating on who might replace CEO Lloyd Blankfein if he were to step down, exploring three possible candidates in depth.
But here’s the explanation for why they think such speculation appropriate:
Two friends of Mr. Blankfein, 56, say he has told them since last summer that he is exhausted from leading the company through the financial crisis and that he would consider stepping down when he could do so gracefully, without the move appearing to be anything but voluntary.
To be sure, Mr. Blankfein may decide to stay a while, despite the chatter to the contrary. And as far as Goldman is concerned, Mr. Blankfein is not going anywhere. A spokesman for the firm, Lucas van Praag, declined to comment other than to note that Mr. Blankfein “says he has never felt so energetic and has no plans to retire.”
The NYT repeats that comment from the spokesperson without noting that its reliance on three sources “briefed on the situation” of discussions of Blankfein’s departure sort of contradicts that spin.
The most amazing part of the article, though, is the way in which it frames Blankfein’s possible departure in terms of an SEC probe settled a year ago. While it raises the Levin report on the causes of the financial crash, it somehow neglects to mention Levin’s announcement he was making a criminal referral to DOJ.
Roger Freeman, a financial analyst at Barclays Capital, said Mr. Blankfein might wait to see his firm through the final negotiations with Washington over new regulatory rules for the banking industry in the second half of 2011, before handing Goldman to a younger team in 2012. “This has been an exhausting period,” Mr. Freeman said. “It would not be a surprising time to see a change.”
As the economy stumbled, Goldman’s success brought harsh public criticism, as lawmakers and even some clients complained that Goldman was no longer putting clients first.
That argument gained strength after the Securities and Exchange Commission accused Goldman of fraud last April in connection with a mortgage security it had created and sold. Goldman settled the case last July, paying a penalty of $550 million.
While the firm is clearly doing well, the public ire persists, especially in Washington. On Wednesday, after issuing a report examining the roots of the financial crisis, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan was sharply critical of Goldman’s bet against housing. “Why would Goldman deny what was so obvious, that they were engaged in a huge short in the year 2007?” Senator Levin said. “Because they gained at the expense of their clients and they used abusive practices to do it.”
Hey, NYT? Here’s what Levin also said:
But Levin made clear he has bigger hopes for this examination: he sees the report as perhaps one last chance for U.S. prosecutors to finally reel in the big fish that has eluded them since the markets started melting down in 2007.Levin said he believes execs at Goldman (GS) crossed the line in trying to soft-pedal the extent of the firm’s bets against the staggering U.S. housing market as the credit bubble collapsed in 2006 and 2007.
The firm privately referred to these multibillion-dollar positions as “the big short,” the report indicates – showing, in Levin’s view, that Goldman did indeed have the systematic wager against U.S. housing that it has long denied. He said he was referring the case to the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
“In my judgment, Goldman clearly misled their clients and they misled Congress,” Levin told reporters on a conference call Wednesday morning before the report was released. [my emphasis]
Now, I assume a story like this is all about helping Goldman push Blankfein out as part of a deal it eventually will make with DOJ to persuade it to settle any investigation arising from the Levin referral. That is, this is all about supporting Goldman’s effort to make it look like Blankfein is leaving–if he does–on his own terms. And, in turn, supporting DOJ’s apparent fierce determination not to try any of the criminals who crashed our economy.
It’s just not clear why the NYT really thinks the story–lacking the crucial detail to explain why this might be news–is “news.”
FROM: Mr. Lloyd Blankfein
200 West Street
New York, New York
Chump City, ForeignLand
I have been requested by the Facebook Company to contact you for assistance in resolving a matter. The Facebook Company has recently concluded new agreements to share its users’ identities. The contracts have immediately produced moneys equaling US$50,000,000,000. The Facebook Company is desirous of harvesting user identities in other parts of the world, however, because of certain regulations of the Securities and Exchange Commission, it is unable to move these funds to another region.
You assistance is requested as a non-American citizen to assist the Facebook Company, and also the Goldman Sachs, in moving these funds out of America. If the funds can be transferred to your name, in your non-United States account, then you can forward the funds as directed by the Facebook Company. In exchange for your accommodating services, the Facebook Company would agree to allow you to retain 10%, or US$5 billion of this amount.
However, to be a legitimate transferee of these moneys according to American law, you must presently be a depositor of at least US$1,000,000 in a Special Purpose Vehicle which is regulated by the Goldman Sachs.
If it will be possible for you to assist us, we would be most grateful. We suggest that you meet with us in person in Chump City, and that during your visit I introduce you to the representatives of the Facebook Company, as well as with certain officials of the Goldman Sachs.
Please call me at your earliest convenience at 202-555-MOTU. Time is of the essence in this matter; very quickly the Securities and Exchange Commission will realize that the Goldman Sachs is maintaining this amount on deposit, and attempt to levy certain depository taxes on it.
Perhaps the most stunning part of the Goldman Sachs hearing the other day came at the end of the hearing, after most of the press had left for dinner. Carl Levin challenged Lloyd Blankfein on something he had said to staffers. Blankfein claimed that he “never thought” of the fact that AAA ratings were important to sales and that some buyers only buy AAA rated products.
Somehow I have a feeling this claim is going to come back to haunt Blankfein.
One of the highlights of today’s hearing on Goldman Sachs (aside from my Senator saying “shitty deal” over and over, was Claire McCaskill’s insistence on referring to Goldman Sachs’s Synthetic CDOs as gambling. (She did this earlier with another of the Goldman execs, after which John Ensign defended his state’s biggest industry, pointing out that everyone knows the odds are gamed to make sure casinos win, whereas with finance, the House keeps changing the odds after bets have been placed.)
But don’t worry. Lloyd Blankfein tells us none of this is immoral.