I’ve been waiting for this. Matt Taibbi reacts to Eric Holder not prosecuting Wall Street:
I’ve been on deadline in the past week or so, so I haven’t had a chance to weigh in on Eric Holder’s predictable decision to not pursue criminal charges against Goldman, Sachs for any of the activities in the report prepared by Senators Carl Levin and Tom Coburn two years ago.
Last year I spent a lot of time and energy jabbering and gesticulating in public about what seemed to me the most obviously prosecutable offenses detailed in the report – the seemingly blatant perjury before congress of Lloyd Blankfein and other Goldman executives, and the almost comically long list of frauds committed by the company in its desperate effort to unload its crappy “cats and dogs” mortgage-backed inventory.
In the notorious Hudson transaction, for instance, Goldman claimed, in writing, that it was fully “aligned” with the interests of its client, Morgan Stanley, because it owned a $6 million slice of the deal. What Goldman left out is that it had a $2 billion short position against the same deal.
If that isn’t fraud, Mr. Holder, just what exactly is fraud?
Still, it wasn’t surprising that Holder didn’t pursue criminal charges against Goldman. And that’s not just because Holder has repeatedly proven himself to be a spineless bureaucrat and obsequious political creature masquerading as a cop, and not just because rumors continue to circulate that the Obama administration – supposedly in the interests of staving off market panic – made a conscious decision sometime in early 2009 to give all of Wall Street a pass on pre-crisis offenses.
No, the real reason this wasn’t surprising is that Holder’s decision followed a general pattern that has been coming into focus for years in American law enforcement. Our prosecutors and regulators have basically admitted now that they only go after the most obvious and easily prosecutable cases.
If the offense committed doesn’t fit the exact description in the relevant section of the criminal code, they pass. The only white-collar cases they will bring are absolute slam-dunk situations where some arrogant rogue commits a blatant crime for individual profit in a manner thoroughly familiar to even the non-expert portion of the jury pool/citizenry.
In other words, they’ll take on somebody like Raj Rajaratnam, who stacked his illegal insider trades so brazenly and carelessly that his case almost reads like a finance version of Jeff Dahmer tripping over bodies in his Milwaukee apartment. Or they’ll pursue Bernie Madoff on the tenth or eleventh time he crosses their desk, after years of nonaction, and after he breaks down weeping and confessing. Basically, if someone backs a dump truck up to the DOJ and unloads the entire case, gift-wrapped, a contrite and confessing criminal included, a guy like Eric Holder might, after much agonizing deliberation, decide to prosecute.
But here’s the thing: most of the crimes Wall Street people commit involve highly specific, highly individualized transactions that won’t fit Eric Holder’s bag of cookie-cutter statutory definitions. That is not the same thing as saying they’re not crimes. They are: the crimes of the crisis period were and are very basic crimes like fraud, theft, perjury, and tax evasion, only they’re dressed up in millions of pages of camouflaging verbiage.
Or, even more often, the crimes have also been sanctified in advance by “reputable” law and accounting firms, who (for huge fees) offered their clients opinions that, if X and Y are signed in accordance with Z, and A and B are stipulated by the parties, and everyone’s sitting Indian-style and facing the moon when the deal is agreed to, then it’s not fucked up and illegal when Goldman Sachs tells you it’s a co-investor in your deal when it’s actually got $2 billion bet against you.
You know that look a dog gives you when you show it something confusing, like an electric razor or a lawn sprinkler? That’s the look federal prosecutors give when companies like Goldman wave their attorneys’ sanctifying opinions at them. They scratch their heads and say: “Oh, wow, well since this was signed in Australia by three millionaire lawyers wearing magic invisibility cloaks, it really isn’t fraud! They’re right!”
As one high-profile attorney currently working on a closely-watched case involving a Wall Street bank put it to me yesterday: “With these Justice guys, everything the Wall Street lawyers say makes perfect sense to them, no matter how dumb it is.”