Well that didn’t take long. Less than 24 hours after PBS aired Frontline’s The Untouchables, a program focused on the failures of the Department of Justice to make cases against Wall Street bankers despite ample evidence of fraud, the head of DOJ’s criminal division resigns. It’s hard to dismiss as a coincidence given that Lanny Breuer was rather clearly identified in the program – which he participated in – as the person unwilling to go forward with Wall Street prosecutions out of both a fear of losing the cases and some strange fixation on the possibility the firms engaging in criminal fraud might go out of business. I am not sure anyone regrets Enron and Arthur Andersen going out of business. But more to the point, that concern is totally outside a prosecutor’s purview. Breuer was supposed to enforce the law not play systemic risk analyst – a job he is in no way qualified for.
While establishment media like the Washington Post want to focus on Breuer’s role in the “Fast and Furious” gun running fiasco as a possible reason for his departure it seems those in the know had a different understanding. The Department Of Justice spent the day attacking Frontline claiming their program was a “hit piece” and threatening to “never co-operate” with news stories in the future. It’s so good to see someone will pay for Wall Street’s crimes – not the bankers or the politicians who committed the crimes and profited from them but journalists asking questions about what happened. Sweet justice.
It is also worth noting that Lanny Breuer was interviewed extensively for the program. He had his say repeatedly as did others whom he worked with, a good deal of the program involved him offering the best arguments he could muster to defend his actions/inactions. For DOJ to now punish the journalists for a program that provided their officials with a forum is truly ridiculous.
It’s time to face the facts, DOJ failed on one of the most important legal issues of our time. They have no one to blame for their bad reputation but themselves.