Any day now the Environmental Protection Agency will announce it is investigating JPMorgan Chase. It's about the only federal agency that hasn't already taken a swing at the bank.
Is Washington out to get JPMorgan? Or is the giant firm simply making that many more missteps than its competitors?
"I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but I am beginning to see a conspiracy," says one longtime source with no direct connection to JPM. "JPMorgan Chase is a big company and I am sure they make mistakes, but I don't think they've made one every afternoon for the last 365 days."
(To see more posts from Barb Rehm's Blog, click here.)
Clearly JPMorgan has messed up and obviously CEO Jamie Dimon has been less than politic in his comments about financial reform. And he easily could have won some allies by giving into shareholder concerns and relinquishing the chairman title.
But the scrutiny from Washington does have a tinge of political backlash to it. It's almost like you hurt the ones you love most, right?
Dimon was about as "in" with the Obama administration as a banker could get. But his repeated, public criticism of the Dodd-Frank Act created a rift, and the "London Whale" episode in spring 2012 cemented the divide.
No longer was Jamie Dimon a friend of President Obama or the Democratic Party. While that shouldn't matter, it looks like it does.
As the Washington Post put it recently: "Almost every corner of JPMorgan's business is under scrutiny from state, federal and international authorities."
The Financial Times noted that JPM's list of legal issues is five times as long 10 pages as it was five years ago.
JPM's second-quarter disclosures tell investors about more than three dozen separate investigations or lawsuits, including six by the Justice Department alone.
Some of this scrutiny is justified. How JPM marketed mortgage-backed securities and how it's collecting overdue debts seem like fair game to me. But going after the bank for hiring the children of Chinese officials? That smacks of bureaucrats reaching to make a point.
And the government throwing each book at JPM seems to be the embodiment of Eric Holder's about-face on big banks.
In March, the attorney general said the largest banks are too big to jail. About the only thing surprising about that statement was how long it took him to walk it back. This month Holder did an about-face and promised to announce new prosecutions of bankers by yearend.
"My message is, anybody who's inflicted damage on our financial markets should not be of the belief that they are out of the woods because of the passage of time. If any individual or if any institution is banking on waiting things out, they have to think again," Holder told The Wall Street Journal.
Don't hold your breath; Holder is expected to step down as AG in the next few months.
But talk like that does embolden regulators, and the federal government looks poised to press JPMorgan until its board takes some decisive action like selling off big chunks of business or forcing Dimon out.
If regulators have concluded that the largest banks are "too big to manage" and by this point that seems pretty obvious to me then let's confront that head-on. Finish the Dodd-Frank rules that will give the biggest banks an incentive to get smaller and simpler. Identify the riskiest products and practices and crack down on them.
But let's not target a bank and drag it down piece by piece. That can't be good for the system, much less the public's faith in banking or our economy's recovery.