WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric Holder tried on Wednesday to walk back earlier comments that some financial institutions are "too big to jail."

"Let me be very clear, there's no bank, there's no institution, there's no individual that cannot be prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice," he told lawmakers during a House Judiciary Committee hearing. "We have had thousands of financially based cases over the last four years."

The remarks came after his now-famous March testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in which he explained to lawmakers that the size of some banks can make it more difficult to bring those institutions to trial.

At the time, Holder expressed concern that "the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if we do prosecute — if we do bring a criminal charge — it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy."

Those comments set off renewed debate in Washington over whether some institutions should be downsized, and raised serious questions about the fairness of the judicial system.

Holder also said at Wednesday's hearing that his earlier comments have been "misconstrued."

But it's uncertain why Holder waited until May to publicly clarify his earlier statements, given how frequently they've been cited by lawmakers, advocates and the media, or what exactly was misconstrued.

It's not even clear that his comments in front of the House panel are at odds with his earlier statements in the Senate. Asserting that all financial institutions can be prosecuted by the Justice Department doesn't necessarily diminish the fact that such cases may be harder to bring.

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