The revolving door between the Department of Justice and a certain corporate law firm is spinning faster than ever. On July 6, former Attorney General Eric Holder returned to his previous employer, Covington & Burling — a firm that’s represented the biggest banks on Wall Street, and is internationally known for its white-collar defense practice. A week later, his DOJ chief of staff Margaret Richardson announced that she would be following him there.
Meanwhile, the latest data from the DOJ reveals that criminal prosecutions for white-collar crimes are at a 20-year low. This decline and the rapid circulation of personnel between Covington and the DOJ has raised questions about the Obama administration’s handling of the banking industry and the 2008 financial crisis.
Under Obama, the DOJ decided not to pursue criminal charges against most of the executives and financial institutions behind the economic collapse, opting instead to impose hefty fines that were paid out by shareholders, not the employees or executives of the banks. In contrast, some 1,100 individuals faced criminal prosecution during the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s, and the heads of several major banks served jail time.
“I’m not accusing anyone of anything specific, but we’re looking at a gigantic built-in conflict of interest revolving in and out of the attorney general’s office,” Ted Kaufman, a former Delaware senator who went on to chair the Congressional Oversight Panel tasked with monitoring the $700 billion bailout of the financial industry during the crisis, told VICE News.