Elizabeth Warren Decries ‘Too-Big-For-Trial’ Approach to Banks

Photograph by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, questions regulators during a Senate Banking Committee hearing in Washington on Feb. 14, 2013.

If there was any thought that Elizabeth Warren, who portrayed herself as an anti-Wall Street cop during her 2012 Senate campaign, would soften her attacks on banks once in office, she quickly dismissed such notions today.

Warren used her first hearing as a member of the Senate Banking Committee not to ask regulators about progress in implementing the Dodd-Frank Act, which she helped conceive and pass as an Obama administration official. Instead, the Massachusetts Democrat chastised them for relying on legal settlements and failing to jail bankers.

“What I’d like to know is, tell me a little bit about the last few times you’ve taken the biggest financial institutions on Wall Street all the way to a trial?” Warren asked.

“I’m really concerned that too-big-too-fail has become too-big-for-trial. That just seems wrong to me,” she said.

Her comment was met with applause from consumer advocates in the audience.

Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry and Securities and Exchange Commissioner Chairman Elisse Walter defended their records.

“We have not had to do it as a practical matter to achieve our supervisory goals,” Curry said.

Walter was booed by some audience members when she was unable to name a Wall Street bank the SEC has taken to trial.

“We actually have asked for additional authority — my predecessor did — to raise penalties,” Walter said. “But when we look at these issues — and we truly believe that we have a very vigorous enforcement program — we look at the distinction between what we could get if we go to trial, and what we could get if we don’t.”

Warren said federal bank regulators could take a page from local and federal prosecutors.

“There are district attorneys and U.S. attorneys who are out there every day squeezing ordinary citizens on sometimes very thin grounds, and taking them to trial in order to make an example, as they put it,” she said.

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