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Lanny Breuer and Mary Jo White. Or Is It, Lanny Breuer versus Mary Jo White? Or is it neither?*

BREUER: “If you look at what we and the U.S. attorney community did, I think you have to take a step back. Over the last couple of years, we have convicted Raj Rajaratnam, one of the largest hedge fund leaders. Now, you’ll say that’s an insider trading case, but it’s clearly going after Wall Street.”*

Oh, we get it.  It’s a semantics game.  Anyone connected with the finance industry will do as a prosecution target, as long as he wasn’t a top executive at a mega bank, a mega investment bank, or a mega mortgage company.  He works on Wall Street!  We went after Wall Street!

What’s next? A claim that they prosecuted the head of the asphalt company that repaved Wall Street, for tax evasion or something?

BREUER: “First of all, I think that the financial crisis is multifaceted. But even within that, all we can do is look hard at this multifaceted, multipronged problem. And what we’ve had is a multipronged, multifaceted response.”*

Actually, there seems to be a major facet missing in their approach.  Which was the point of the expose.

All that said, I just think there’s something more that was going on there than just Lanny Breuer’s and Eric Holder’s desire to return to Covington & Burling after their Justice Dept. stints.  For one thing, most top white collar crime defense attorneys began their careers as federal prosecutors and made their names in high-profile cases.  They know how to defend in white collar criminal cases, precisely because they successfully prosecuted some complicated ones.  So prosecuting big-name Wall Street execs would not have hampered their option to return to big-law criminal defense work.  

For this reason, I think the criticism of Obama’s selection of Mary Jo White as SEC head is off-base; she was known as an extremely aggressive head of the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office, and do think Obama’s decision to nominate her is intended to indicate a toughness toward the finance industry.  Yes, she’s been representing finance industry companies and execs in criminal-law matters, but because of that, she now knows all the more how the inside game is played.  And the better she is at the SEC job, the more desirable, not the less desirable, she’ll be to the big Wall Street law firms.  It’s counterintuitive, and of course exactly the opposite of people who work in regulatory agencies such as the EPA leaving to become lobbyists.  But what matters in this situation, less, ideology than actual knowledge

This is not to minimize the potential and maybe real conflicts of interest that result from the passage back through the revolving door to high-level law enforcement and regulatory positions after time spent on the other side of that door.  But I think that’s because of friendships–personal relations–rather than a surely-unrealistic fear of having trouble returning to Big Law, for really big bucks, when the time comes to pass back through the revolving door once again. 
Ultimately, I just don’t think Holder and Breuer were the ones deciding to not even investigate the big boys.  I think that was more likely a policy decision made elsewhere in the administration.  I don’t think Geithner picked up the phone and called Holder or Breuer. Nor, if he did play a role in these decisions, do I think he even thought he was doing anything other than protecting the economy. Same for Obama, if my hunch is right that Geithner had some influence on these decisions, via Obama.
But I guess there’s no way for us to know the inside story. At this point, anyway. And I do agree with the New York Times today in an article by Ben Protess and Benjamin Weiser that Obama seems to be trying to signal a new day.

* From The New York Times would rather cover a Breuer chair than cover Lanny Breuer, by lambert, at Corrente. H/T, reader rjs.

*POSTSCRIPT:  The New York Times article notes specifically that White “defended some of Wall Street’s biggest names, including Kenneth D. Lewis, a former chief of Bank of America,” and that “[a]s the head of litigation at Debevoise & Plimpton, she also represented JPMorgan Chase and the board of Morgan Stanley.”  So she’ll have to recuse herself from matters that touch upon issues related to the cases she worked on for those execs and banks or that rely in any respect on information she gained through those representations.

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Are Lanny Breuer and Eric Holder taking the hit for … Tim Geithner? UPDATED

After reading Ken Houghton’s post immediately below, and then clicking on the Twitter exchange that Ken, Dan and Yves referenced, in which the Frontline reporter, Martin Smith, said he’d received a call from the Justice Department saying that the reporter had come with an agenda and that the Obama Justice Department would not again cooperate with Frontline, I’m wondering whether Lanny Breuer and Eric Holder are taking the hit for … Tim Geithner.

The more I think about it, the more I think that that’s the most likely scenario.  It almost seems like Geithner had Obama hypnotized–that he always managed to scare Obama just about to death with “But the banks will COLLAPSE!”

If this is what happened, then whoever at the Justice Dept. who called Smith might actually be hinting that Smith should probe further–say, into the Treasury Dept.–to find the full background.  

I mean, how in heaven’s name were those lawyers for the banks and the bankers getting that kind of access to the Justice Dept.’s Criminal Division?  How likely is it, really, that this was simply that that asked Breuer or Holder?  Or that they even contacted either of them directly?  Just a hunch here, obviously, but my guess is: not much.  

So maybe Breuer’s the good guy, after all.  Maybe he was fighting behind the scenes against acceptance of what was being sold at those presentations.  Which would explain the anger of the Justice Dept. person who called Smith.   


UPDATE:  In response to reader rjs’s comments in the Comments threat, I responded:

The reason that I thought, in reading some of this stuff, that Geithner might have played a role in it is that Geithner is the one who always seemed to have the executives’ backs. Covington & Burling can argue all it wants that huge damage to the economy, and to innocent employees, would result from indictment of the banks themselves, but the banks would not go under if specific individuals were indicted. Covington & Burling represents the banks, not the executives as individuals. So why weren’t any individuals–any executives–indicted?

Breuer says there was no evidence of intent to defraud, but that seems unlikely, unless the DoJ didn’t look for any.

The bottom line is that Breuer and Holder certainly look culpable, and that you’re right, rjs, that Breuer probably was not arguing quietly for indictments against executives. But is that all there is to it?

At least this finally exposes the sickening, sickening symbiotic relationship between the top officials in the DoJ and big-name Washington white collar criminal defense law. And it’s not a good thing for Obama to have renominated Holder as AG.

So the answer to the question in the title of this post–”Are Lanny Breuer and Eric Holder taking the hit for Tim Geithner?”–seems to be, no.

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