Holder: Banks too big to prosecute

The A.G.'s comment to the Senate Judiciary Committee points to structural problem with big banks

Published March 7, 2013 3:06PM (EST)

Attorney General Eric Holder admitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that banks are simply too big to prosecute.

The Justice Department has not brought a single criminal conviction against a Wall Street executive four years after a financial crisis proven to have been precipitated by fraudulent behavior. On Wednesday, Holder admitted that the vast size of major banks and the structural integration in the economy makes criminal prosecutions basically impossible.

"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," Holder said, according to the Hill. "And I think that is a function of the fact that some of these institutions have become too large."

As Mark Gongloff at HuffPo noted, Holder's comments in Congress could serve as "a key moment in the debate over whether to do something about the size and complexity of our biggest banks, which have only gotten bigger and more systemically important since the financial crisis." But, Gongloff qualified, "That doesn't mean you should hold your breath for anything to be done about it right away, or ever. It is far easier to talk about breaking up the big banks than to do it."

The Justice Department has come under fire in recent months for its light touch with banking giants. Matt Taibbi's recent Rolling Stone feature, "Gangster Bankers: Too Big to Jail," lays it out in eviscerating detail -- HSBC for years laundered money for drug traffickers and terrorist groups, only to receive a slight slap on the wrist from the Justice Department.

By Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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Banking Banks Eric Holder Financial Crisis Senate Judiciary Committee Too Big To Fail Wall Street