Elizabeth Warren Wants Answers on Too Big for Trial


For some reason, finding the answers as to why any internal investigation or research hasn’t been conducted regarding the nation’s biggest banks is a bit like pulling political teeth. Still, that hasn’t slowed Senator Elizabeth Warren, who’s as determined now as she was in February to find the answers.

You may recall the heated – and quite interesting – questioning the Democrat Senator had for the Senate Banking Committee a few months ago. She didn’t get the answers to her questions, but as anyone who’s at all familiar with her efforts knows, she was far from finished. Today, she proved it.

Too Big for Trial

Usually, we hear about the “too big to fail” banks; with Warren, though, she wants to know why the banks are too big for trial. Despite an aggressive effort on her part, she was unable to get one single person to justify why there have been no prosecutions in the bankers’ wrongdoing that brought us the debilitating recession that we, as a country, are still trying to overcome.

The Massachusetts senator isn’t letting this one go. She’s a member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs and she’s now aiming even higher in her efforts of uncovering the answers to her very legitimate and relevant questions. She’s targeting Attorney General Eric Holder, current Securities and Exchange Commission Chairwoman Mary Jo White and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. If her timing was planned, it couldn’t have been more perfect.

Holder Effect

Earlier on Tuesday, Eric Holder gave a briefing in front of reporters to answer questions about the AP records that were lifted via the Justice Department. He looked quite weary as he announced he recused himself from the investigation. Unlike his usual aggressive approach, similar to that he displayed during the Fast and Furious scandal, Holder appeared and spoke slowly, quietly though with an assertive tone. He patiently took questions and said he doesn’t know everything that went into the subpoena that allowed the Justice Department to gather phone records “across the board” of AP reporters, but did say that this was a “very serious leak – a very, very serious leak.”

He said that since he became a prosecutor in 1976, “this is among the top two or three serious leaks that I’ve ever seen.” He then concluded by saying “it put the American people at risk” and that “trying to determine who was responsible for that required very aggressive action.” It’s not likely Warren deliberately timed her latest round of questions to fall on the same day as this presser, but make no mistake, that’s no reason for her to recede. She’s on a mission, whether or not there are no scandals in the Obama Administration mean little to her at this point.

Wants Answers

She asked Holder and the others, via a letter:

Have you conducted any internal research or analysis on trade-offs to the public between settling an enforcement action without admission of guilt and going forward with litigation as necessary to obtain such admission and, if so, can you provide that analysis to my office?

Remember, back in February, before the ink had even dried on her new role, she wanted to know when the last time anyone had taken bankers to trial. She was met with a cold and distancing series of answers, all of which she swatted like pesky flies. When her question was answered with,

We do not have to bring people to trial,

from Thomas Curry, the chief of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, she quickly reminded him that she was well aware that it felt like it had no obligation to do anything, but that her question was when was the last time any government body had stepped up to the plate, did the right thing and forced someone into court to answer for their crimes.

Of course, she already knew the answer, even as those responding already had their “safe answers” prepared.

New Questions, New Targets

So now, she’s turning her attention a bit higher up the food chain. And there’s more meat on these bones. Remember, the Independent Foreclosure Review and the National Mortgage Settlement both require the nation’s biggest banks to cease their misleading or just wrong practices. The foreclosure settlements continue to be a laughing stock for the world as wrong dollar amounts are being sent, most of which fall woefully short of what they were supposed to be, the checks aren’t being honored at banks because the accounts they’re drawn on don’t have sufficient funds and consumers are already talking about class action lawsuits.

Housing counselors, lawyers, attorneys general, consumers’ advocates and a host of others are becoming overwhelmed with the growing number of complaints being filed by consumers. In short, the program, in its entirety has failed.

Warren’s letter, received today by the addressees, including Fed Chair Ben Bernanke and Eric Holder, has a few choice words:

There is no question that settlements, fines, consent orders, and cease-and-desist orders are important enforcement tools, and that trials are expensive, demand numerous resources, and are often less preferable than settlements. But I believe strongly that if a regulator reveals itself to be unwilling to take large financial institutions all the way to trial – either because it is too timid or because it lacks resources – the regulators have a lot less leverage in settlement negotiations and will be forced to settle on terms that are much more favorable to the wrongdoer.

She then reiterated the importance of the questions she asked in February and how they have yet to be answered,

I submitted the…question to Comptroller Thomas J. Curry: Has the OCC conducted any internal research going forward with litigation as necessary to obtain such admission…and if so, can you provide that analysis…?

She then asked, “Have you conducted any internal research…that would settle…” any of these problems?

Not Going Away

If there was any question before, it’s most certainly been answered now. Elizabeth Warren is here to stay and anyone who mistakes her very concerted efforts as passive aggressive is about to get a rather rude awakening. So you tell us: is Warren about to roll heads or will the financial industry as a whole gobble her up the way it has others before her?

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