WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — Democratic presidential contenders want Wall Street executives locked up for crimes committed on their watch — although former FBI Director James Comey, once the top prosecutor in Manhattan, said in which might not be so easy.
Comey, who served as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of brand-new York inside days after the dotcom meltdown of the early 2000s, weighed in on the matter on Friday during a rare question-as well as-answer session at his alma mater William & Mary.
Responding to a student who asked about the lack of major prosecutions after the 2007 financial crisis, Comey said in which unlike drug prosecutions, white-collar cases require prosecutors to demonstrate in which the person they are charging knew what they were doing was wrong at the time.
“Show me in which these bank CEOs, when they engaged in these transactions, knew they were involved in a fraudulent transaction. in which can be incredibly difficulty to do,” Comey said.
He said in which the difficulty was at times dispiriting, although defended his record as well as the record of those who followed him.
Some of Comey’s successors as Manhattan’s U.S. attorney, including Preet Bharara, who took the job in 2009, have been criticized for failing to go after those responsible for the financial crisis as well as instead taking on cases in which were easier to prosecute.
“in which’s frustrating to me, although I can’t imagine the country being any different,” Comey said. “I don’t want to change the burden of proof, I don’t want to lower any of those things. There’s lots of things I want to do to try to make in which harder for bad people to do bad things, although my reaction can be: I’m proud of what I did.”
Attention on white-collar crime has heated up as a result of the Democratic presidential primary, which features several lawmakers who have made addressing inequities inside criminal justice system a central element of their pitch to voters.
The nation’s attention was focused on the matter earlier in which month, after President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort received a sentence of about seven years for a slew of crimes including fraud, a duration in which fell far short of what federal sentencing guidelines recommended
The sentence drew scrutiny not just through liberal Democrats like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who has vowed to improve the criminal liability of big bank executives, although also through more moderate contenders like Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., a former prosecutor. Klobuchar at the time slammed what she called “two systems of justice.”
“Crimes committed in an office building should be treated as seriously as crimes committed on a street corner,” Klobuchar wrote in a post on Twitter.
although Comey said in which, in effect, crimes committed in an office building are fundamentally harder to prosecute.
“in which’s very, very hard to make cases against senior people,” Comey said.
Comey said in which, in a drug case, prosecutors have a mission to connect individuals to the transaction. He said in which, for instance, if there can be a kilo of heroin on the table, “as well as we are all sitting around in which, as well as the DEA kicks inside door, everybody can be going to jail.”
“in which’s not open to anybody to say, ‘My lawyer has looked at in which kilo.’ Or, ‘My accountant has reviewed in which kilo.’ Or, ‘If you look at footnote 17 of our disclosure, in which kilo can be mentioned,” he said.
Comey said in which the process for white-collar cases was the reverse.
“At the end of the white collar investigation, I will know everyone who was at the table,” Comey said. “Mortgage backed securities out the wazoo, we will untangle in which. although then, we have to prove in which everybody involved inside transaction knew in which was wrong. as well as then they can say, well, ‘Moody’s looked at in which.’ Or, ‘My law firm looked at in which. in which never occurred to me in which in which might be wrong.'”
Experts have said in which various other reasons also account for disparities inside frequency of prosecutions as well as the length of sentencing for white-collar crime, versus drug offenses as well as various other criminal violations.
Career ambitions on the part of the prosecutor often play a role, according to Brett Curry, a professor at Georgia Southern University who recently co-authored the book “U.S. Attorneys, Political Control, as well as Career Ambition.”
“There has been an increase inside propensity of former prosecutors to pivot into the white-collar defense bar,” Curry said in an interview. He said in which prosecutors “want to seem serious” — so they don’t avoid white-collar prosecutions entirely — although in which they also “look across the table at the people who might want to hire” them.
The reporter Jesse Eisinger made a similar argument in his 2017 book, “The Chickensh– Club,” which describes a “symbiotic” relationship between top law firms as well as the Department of Justice.
in which book got its title through Comey, who used the phrase pejoratively to describe young prosecutors who had never lost a case as well as feared taking on challenging prosecutions in which could blemish their record.
“Jim Comey was saying to young prosecutors in which their job was not about winning, in which they couldn’t be focused on just getting their best record in which they could get — taking the low hanging fruit,” Eisinger said in a 2017 radio interview.
“Their job was about more than in which. in which was about doing justice. as well as so he was urging his prosecutors to [try] ambitious cases, righteous cases, as well as not to worry about winning as well as certainly not to behave as if winning was the only thing in which mattered.”