Sen. Elizabeth Warren Questions Regulators’ Willingness To Prosecute Wall Street Banks

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) isn’t letting regulators off the hook for their lack of prosecutions of Wall Street banks in the wake of the financial crisis. After using her initial Senate Banking Committee hearing to press regulators about whether big banks are “too big to trial,” Warren is doing so again — this time in a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Justice Department, and the Federal Reserve.

The letter questioned regulators’ willingness to pursue settlements instead of prosecutions, and asked them to provide any analysis to justify that practice, The Hill reports:

“I believe strongly that if a regulator reveals itself to be unwilling to take large financial institutions all the way to trial — either because it is too timid or because it lacks resources — the regulator has a lot less leverage in settlement negotiations,” Warren wrote in the letter.

“If large financial institutions can break the law and accumulate millions in profits and, if they get caught, settle by paying out of those profits, they do not have much incentive to follow the law.”

Warren isn’t alone in her criticism: Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) and Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) pushed the Justice Department over the notion that big banks have become “too big to jail” in January, and Grassley accused regulators of giving banks a “get out of jail free card” for their involvement in the crisis.

Prosecutions for financial fraud hit a 20-year low in 2011, and regulators largely turned to settlements to punish big banks after the crisis. But various settlements have allowed them to avoid admissions of wrongdoing, and the largest of the settlements — the mortgage and foreclosure fraud settlements — have been rife with problems that have allowed banks to game their requirements while homeowners have struggled to access required assistance.