WASHINGTON — Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, are pressing the Department of Justice over concerns that the agency has failed to prosecute some of the nation's largest financial institutions for various financial crimes.
Brown, a senior member of the Senate Banking Committee, and Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, warned in a letter Tuesday that public confidence in the Justice Department is undermined by the perception that recent settlements with large financial institutions are motivated by market concerns.
Critics have condemned recent deals the agency made with banks, including, for example, HSBC's recent $1.92 billion deal with Justice Department over money laundering charges. Some have also complained that the agency should have done more in the wake of the financial crisis to punish those accountable, including executives at some of the nation's top institutions.
The lawmakers cited previous remarks by Attorney General Eric Holder and Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer suggesting that the impact of a bank's failure on financial markets is a consideration in deciding whether or not to prosecute, and asked Justice for information on whether the agency has ever failed to prosecute on the basis of those concerns.
They also asked if Justice has designated certain institutions that would affect market stability in the event of a failure, and if the size of a settlement has ever reflected market concerns. In addition, Brown and Grassley requested the names and compensation paid to any outside experts the Justice Department consulted in making prosecutorial decisions regarding institutions with over $1 billion of assets, and whether the agency can ensure that the experts offered unbiased advice.
"Our markets will only function efficiently if participants believe that all laws will be enforced consistently, and that violators will be punished to the fullest extent of the law," Brown and Grassley said in the letter, which is addressed to Holder. "There should not be one set of rules that apply to Wall Street and another set for the rest of us."
The lawmakers requested a response from the Justice Department by Feb. 8.