SEC Chair Asked If He Deserves Blame For Wall Street Crisis: ‘Absolutely Not,’ It ‘Wasn’t The SEC’s Job’

In a new interview with the Washington Post, embattled Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox stridently “defend[ed] his restrained approach to the financial crisis.” He refused to accept any blame for the Wall Street crisis or the Madoff Ponzi scheme, saying that regulating Wall Street and protecting investors “wasn’t the SEC’s job”:

Cox argued that the agency has carefully defined responsibilities and that it was unfair to blame it for every problem on Wall Street.

“The public might not understand that that wasn’t the SEC’s job,” he said, adding that the agency was not responsible for preventing investment banks from collapsing but rather for sheltering their securities trading units from problems in the broader corporation. “The SEC is not a safety and soundness regulator,” he said. [..]

In fact, the SEC’s mission statement clearly suggests that “safety” is — or should be — a primary concern of the commission:

The mission of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is to protect investors, maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and facilitate capital formation.

A review by the SEC inspector general “determined the agency’s monitoring of the five biggest Wall Street firms, which included Bear Stearns, was lacking.” (Just a few days before Bear Stearns collapsed, Cox said he had “a good deal of comfort” in the bank’s capital levels.) Another analysis showed that the SEC dramatically cut its oversight of financial trades. “In one of its core areas — regulation of Wall Street firms — its case load was down significantly,” said Ben A. Indek, a securities lawyer at the law firm that performed the analysis.


Cox also denied any culpability in the Madoff scandal: “When Cox was asked whether he should be blamed for a culture of lax enforcement that allowed multiple warnings about the fraud to go undetected, he said: ‘Absolutely not.’” However, a former SEC official slammed Cox for failing to prevent the Ponzi scheme: “I can’t comprehend how a well-run investigation would have missed a fraud of this magnitude,” said Lynn Turner, a former SEC chief accountant.