Senator Elizabeth Warren goes ballistic on the issue of prosecuting big banks; Attorney General Eric Holder alludes to the big banks being too big to prosecute or jail.
This week’s Washington Watch roundtables features Michelle Bernard, president and CEO of the Bernard Center for Women; Angela Rye, principal of IMPACT Strategies, a political consulting firm; Armstrong Williams, host of “The Right Side;” and George Curry, syndicated columnist for the National Newspaper Publishers Association.
MR. MARTIN: Welcome back, folks.
President Barack Obama gives gun control advocates a seat at the table in exchange for their silence. Senator Elizabeth Warren goes ballistic on the issue of prosecuting big banks, and George Zimmerman decides to waive his “stand your ground” hearing.
We’re taking it all to the round table today with Michelle Bernard, president and CEO of the Bernard Center for Women; Angela Rye, principal of IMPACT Strategies, a political consulting firm; Armstrong Williams, host of “The Right Side” – nice pocket square; and George Curry, syndicated columnist for the National Newspaper Publishers Association. Pocket square – a little, boring, white one. It’s all good, though.
MR. GEORGE CURRY: [Chuckles.]
MR. MARTIN: We’ll get George a little color soon.
All right, folks. Let’s get right to it.
All the attention the last couple of weeks has been about sequestration. Lots of drama this week about drones. But there was testimony this week from Attorney General Eric Holder that I thought was stunning and should’ve been dominating the news cycle for the entire week. He was talking about the issue of the big banks and being too big to prosecute. Check this out.
[BEGIN VIDEO CLIP.]
ATTY. GEN. ERIC HOLDER: I am concerned 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 you do prosecute, if you do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy.
[END OF VIDEO CLIP.]
MR. MARTIN: Now, the Department of Justice is supposed to take into account that very issue of what a prosecution could mean for the economy.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, of course, who has always been critical of these big banks – she actually had something to say about that.
[BEGIN VIDEO CLIP.]
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: If you’re caught with an ounce of cocaine, the chances are good you’re going to go to jail. If it happens repeatedly, you may go to jail for the rest of your life. But evidently, if you launder nearly a billion dollars for drug cartels and violate our international sanctions, your company pays a fine, and you go home and sleep in your own bed at night – every, single individual associated with this. And I just – I think that’s fundamentally wrong.
[END OF VIDEO CLIP.]
MR. MARTIN: This is stunning to me. Folks pretty much act like it’s no big deal. “Too big to jail”?
MS. MICHELLE BERNARD: It’s huge, and any newspaper that you looked in – whether it was, like, a real newspaper or online – just tiny, tiny headlines about this. We had “too big to fail” a few years ago. Now you’re too big to prosecute.
Who speaks for the common man? When you lose all of your money, we talk about the big investment banks. We talk about AIG. Who is looking into the interests of your everyday person?
MR. MARTIN: George.
MR. CURRY: First of all, he’s not secretary of Treasury. He’s attorney general. His job is to prosecute – not worry about the economy.
MR. MARTIN: And Congress’ job –
MR. CURRY: That’s the first place.
MR. MARTIN: — is to give him the authority –
MS. ANGELA RYE: That’s exactly right.
MR. MARTIN: — to say if there’re banks [that] are causing a calamity with our economy, you should prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.
MR. CURRY: And not only that, you know, if they’re too big, then you’re the one – the federal government keeps approving all these mergers.
MR. MARTIN: Break ’em up!
MR. CURRY: And we’re doing – all right. Break ’em up. Then you solve the problem.
MR. ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS: You know, it goes to show you the kind of mob-like clout the banks have over not only the White House, but the country. They hold us hostage. They’re not lending. They’re not helping the credit crisis in this nation.
And we’re not interested in you going after the banks. We want you to go after those individuals who are corrupt –
MR. MARTIN: Right!
MR. WILLIAMS: — corrupting the system. They’re individuals. Just like everyday Americans, who commit crimes, there’s a price they must pay.
MR. MARTIN: Angela, if you’re a banker, you’re literally sitting there going – forget a get-out-of-jail-free card. This is essentially a don’t-go-to-jail-free card. To say that, “Because it might affect the economy, we can’t prosecute ’em” – if Senator Rand Paul wanted to talk about the issue of filibuster, how about somebody – Republican or Democrat – immediately introduce a law saying, “Forget that. Give the DOJ all the authority to go after them”? And you have got to – if you’re the President and this Congress, say these banks must be broken up. Reinstate Glass-Steagall, because that is amazing they could bring this economy to their knees, and nobody go to jail.
MS. RYE: Well, I think there’re a number of issues here. One is thank God for Elizabeth Warren, who is just coming out of serving as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau head. So, she has the consumers’ interests at heart and is definitely going to continue to represent them as an advocate in the Senate.
I think that we also have to look at the role of the executive branch and the role of Congress, the legislative branch, which is they make the laws. So, Eric Holder is basically saying, “I’ll do what you want me to do, but I need the power and to be empowered to do just that.”
When he said that they’re too big to jail, he’s right. There are major challenges there with an economy that’s just rebounding. Does that mean that we should not prosecute criminals? No! It does mean that he needs to have the authority to do that. He can only prosecute based upon what the laws are on the books. Those laws aren’t on the books right now.
MR. MARTIN: George, we’ve got jails filled with young, black men –
OFF CAMERA: That’s right.
MR. MARTIN: — coast to coast in this country, and you’ve got bankers who have been doing wrongdoing – to her point, laundering drug money – and you can’t even send them to jail?
MS. RYE: Um-hum.
MR. CURRY: Yeah, and laundering money, with a whole host of things. You’re dealing with rogue countries. You’re dealing with the drug cartels, and –
MR. MARTIN: You’re dealing with bribery.
MR. CURRY: — and then you don’t even indict them. We’re not talking about going to jail. You don’t even indict them. You give ’em a slap on the wrist, and you go away. That’s wrong!
MR. WILLIAMS: [Crosstalk]- —
MR. MARTIN: Armstrong, this is to me where you would think the Tea Party, the NAACP, Occupy Wall Street would all be on the same side of the table. They all should be saying, “This is embarrassing.”
MR. WILLIAMS: You know, I think there’s a much deeper issue here, and that is an issue you have a Congress that passed laws where there’s insider trading that [apply] to most Americans, but they’re exempt from the law. And even the law they passed recently is really watered down. They still get … to do the things they were doing before. And it goes to show you that this society and the economy [are] built for the elite; and it is us, the everyday taxpayers, who pay the cost when there’s a fallout from all this corruption. It just goes to show they’re so out of touch with we, the people, and this is exactly what they’re reminding us. And we look at this and say, “Where’s the modicum of common sense?”
This is absolutely outrageous!
MR. MARTIN: [I’ve] got to go to a break, but about ten years ago when I came to D.C., and I come – and I’ve seen the White House before, but then for the first time it dawned on me when I said, “White House, Department of Treasury.” There’s only one federal department that shares a lawn with the White House.
OFF CAMERA: ’S right.
MR. MARTIN: If you want to understand the relationship between power and money –
MS. RYE: That’s right. Yes.
MR. MARTIN: — it’s that the Department of Treasury sits on the same grounds as the White House. That’s how you can understand how it works in this country. You’re absolutely right.
And we’re still, George, giving $83 billion a year in subsidies –
MR. CURRY: Subsidies.
MR. MARTIN: — and that is shameful.
MS. RYE: That’s their money.