The Justice Department Seems Incapable of Making Cases Against Wall Street

Men walk in and out of the Goldman Sachs headquarters building December 16, 2008 in New York.
 Goldman Sachs headquarters.

Photograph by Chris Hondros/Getty Images.

How do we make sense of this? Goldman Sachs emails call their own investments “junk” and “crap,” and Goldman Sachs salespeople refer to clients as “muppets” and “elephants.” Yet the Justice Department says there is not enough evidence to bring a case on behalf of Goldman Sachs investors who lost vast sums of money.

First, a caveat: As a former prosecutor and New York attorney general, I feel constrained not to judge cases where I have not been able to review all the evidence. And in this nation we believe, as we should, that the weight of government prosecution—the enormous force of the government ‘s investigative and prosecutorial powers—should be brought down on individuals or entities only when a very high burden of proof can be met.


Now that that’s out of the way, I can say what we are all thinking: Really? Are you kidding me? Wall Street continues to get away scot-free? The Justice Department prosecutes Roger Clemens for perjury—spends countless resources, hours, and energy worrying about steroids in baseball—yet seems incapable of making cases against the big Wall Street firms that engineered the greatest lies, frauds, and scams in our economic history. I am as outraged, disappointed, and furious as you are. Have they no backbone, shame, or sense of what justice is all about? It does nothing for my already waning faith in this Justice Department.


So what do we do? First, let’s go back to basics. Wall Street failed us because of greed run amok in a welter of conflicts of interest, a lack of dedication to integrity, failed regulatory systems, horrendous management, and a total absence of loyalty to fiduciary duties. We can and should demand of Congress that it enact bills already proposed by Sen. Sherrod Brown and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse to break up the big banks.

If the Justice Department won’t prosecute, we at least can let Wall Street know we don’t trust them. The self-important titans of Wall Street fundamentally violated their side of the contract with the public. They were given the keys to the kingdom, in return for which we expected some serious leadership and thoughtfulness in their guiding of our economic system. They utterly failed us, and they still deserve our disdain and scorn.