Yesterday Sen. Elizabeth Warren took part in her first Senate Banking Committee hearing — and it was everything we could hope for. We’re surrounded by these Wall St. bullies, and here comes Sen. Warren to set things right:
WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — In her first hearing as a U.S. senator Thursday, Elizabeth Warren criticized federal regulators for settling civil cases with Wall Street banks instead of taking them to trial.
“I want to note that there are district attorneys and U.S. attorneys who are out there everyday squeezing ordinary citizens on sometimes very thin grounds and taking them to trial to ‘make an example,’ as they put it,” she told bank regulators testifying at a Senate Banking Committee hearing. “I am really concerned that too-big-to-fail has become too-big-for-trial.”
It’s a double! Way to hit the ball, Madame Senator!
Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, has long been known as a stanch defender of consumers. She was a lone voice in the wilderness for the creation of an independent agency to write rules for mortgages and credit-card products. That agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is at the center of a firestorm of criticism from Republicans over its structure, funding and the appointment of its director. Before winning election as a senator, Warren oversaw a panel responsible for reviewing bank bailouts implemented to stem the financial crisis of 2008.
Warren acknowledged that trials are expensive but she insisted that if an agency is unwilling to go to trial it is because they are “too timid” or lack resources. She said that the consequence is that if large financial institutions can break the law and “drag in billions” in profits and settle, then they don’t have much incentive to follow the law.
“Every time there is a settlement and not a trial, it means we didn’t have the days and days and days of testimony about what those financial institutions were up to,” Warren said.
And she steals a base!
The Justice Department can take banks to trial on both criminal and civil charges, while bank regulators engage in civil enforcement actions, which can include trials. Bank regulators also can also make referrals to the Justice Department for criminal proceedings against banks or individuals.
Warren asked bank regulators how tough they are and raised the question about when was the last time any regulator took a Wall Street bank to trial.
“Anybody?” she asked. Warren’s comments received a smattering of applause.
Just a little dribbler, but it’s enough to get her on the scoreboard, and she has her first RBI in the big leagues. This woman has strong MVP potential.
Thomas Curry, the Comptroller of the Currency, which regulates national banks and thrifts, said the agency has not had to bring big banks to trial “as a practical matter” to achieve the regulator’s supervisory goals.
Curry added that the agency has had a fair number of consent orders “so we don’t have to bring people to a trial.” He said the primary motive of the agency’s enforcement actions is to identify the problem and demand a solution to it on an “on-going” basis.
Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Elisse Walter said that she believes the agency has a “very vigorous enforcement program” and that the commission looks at the distinction between what could be achieved in trial vs. what the SEC could obtain without a trial.
An SEC spokesman said the agency is “fully prepared” to go to trial every time the commission files a lawsuit. However, he added that there is “no reason” under the SEC’s authority to delay justice and relief for investors when the agency can “get it all without a trial.”
And since there’s no trial and we don’t know what they were up to, they can keep right on doing it.