Follow Up on Eric Holder: A Shining Example of Presidential Doublespeak


My post on Wednesday, Final Chapter (or, really, an Epilogue) on the Holder Justice Department, drew some fire. Oddly enough, although the point of view I was taking really is not distinguishable from Elizabeth Warren’s, the fire came from the left. (The political left, that is, not my left)

As I suspected he would, Matt Taibbi weighed in on the subject as well in Eric Holder, Wall Street Double Agent, Comes in From the Cold. Taibbi’s coverage was more comprehensive than mine or David Dayen’s, so if you’re interested in the subject, click through and read or, if you prefer video, scroll to the end of the Rolling Stone piece for Matt’s interview with Amy Goodman. 

Taibbi confronts head on the argument of the “Don’t Blame Holder” chorus and, in doing so, exposes a shining example of political doublespeak, for which we can thank President Obama. The argument to which I refer is that no one on Wall Street broke any laws. A comment to my post emphasized, through the use of all caps, that the actions of the banks were “perfectly legal.” Here are Obama’s words, from a 60 minutes interview, which are the source of what Taibbi appropriately labels this “preposterous meme”:

Some of the most damaging behavior on Wall Street — in some cases some of the least ethical behavior on Wall Street — wasn’t illegal.

Can you detect the doublespeak?

Here’s Taibbi’s takedown:

Obama, a brilliant lawyer and wordsmith, was not saying that all of the behavior leading to the crash was legal. He merely said that some of the worst behavior wasn’t illegal. Which is true. Meaningless, but true. [Emphasis mine. This is where Taibbi explains the doublespeak aspect of what Obama said. His actual statement was meaningless, but it was intended to, and did, mislead listeners to an entirely different conclusion.]

Of course, some of the worst behavior was very illegal. This is confirmed in the fact that Holder extracted billions of dollars in settlement monies and even, in a few cases, obtained guilty pleas for crimes like fraud, manipulation, bribery, money laundering and tax evasion.

Anyone who even tries to claim that none of the banks actually did anything illegal should be directed to the HSBC settlement of December 2012. In this deferred prosecution agreement, Europe’s largest bank paid $1.92 billion to settle their responsibility for violations of the Bank Secrecy Act and other laws.

This is from a description of HSBC’s crimes by Holder’s Justice Department:

“As a result of HSBC Bank USA’s AML failures, at least $881 million in drug trafficking proceeds – including proceeds of drug trafficking by the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico…were laundered through HSBC Bank USA.”

I’m not sure which is more Orwellian, the idea that the Wall Street banks did nothing illegal, or Matt Taibbi, David Dayen and me being attacked by progressives and defended by a conservative.


  1. Wherein, you will wake up tomorrow to a different and more stable ME…but no bankers are in jail…so insignificant in the giant scheme of things….so small. Think bigger.


    One factor at play in this issue is Congress. Despite public statements vowing to get tough on corporate crime, legislators have failed to give the Department of Justice and other law enforcement agencies enough money to do the job. Resources instead went to other high-profile cases, such as the insider trading investigations against SAC Capital and Galleon, which experts say are easier to prove than a complex case related to the financial crisis.

    “Having denied all federal regulators the resources necessary to go after a wide range of cases, Congress has essentially forced a form of triage — choosing what to go after first as a priority,” wrote Georgetown’s Langevoort in an email. “And that can result in running out of time before you get around (if ever) to investigating your lower-priority cases.”

    NYU’s Arlen, who teaches a course on financial crime, has an even harsher assessment.

    “This is the game that Congress has always played with these cases,” she said. “It’s a bait-and-switch with the American public.” Still, to many minds Attorney General Holder is where the blame gets laid for the lack of bankers behind bars.

    Same stuff, different day. Deflect away from the real issue and point fingers away from the real culprits…and Americans are duped again.

    • There is never a shortage of reasons/excuses for corruption at the highest levels of government, nor is there ever a shortage of pundits who will peddle those reasons/excuses on behalf of someone they support. To this very day I keep hearing about the Bush Administration and how corrupt his cronies were and complaints about the cushy jobs they moved into after they left office. Yet when Eric Holder’s records and current actions do the same thing, somehow it is okay and his failures in office aren’t his fault. The failures are the fault of a clever Congress, or sneaky Corporations or ANYBODY else but Holder. There isn’t one iota of difference in what Bush’s people did and what Obama’s people are doing, except their Party. As you said, “Same stuff, different day.”

      I think you are an honest woman and a nice person, Cheri, but I think your partisanship makes it difficult for you to objectively look at Holder and see what he did.

  3. Bob, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. You are not supposed to find fault with the Obama Administration or the people who worked for it. You knew you would draw the wrath of the left for pointing out what Holder did and is doing. You are only supposed to point that out when a conservative does it. To paraphrase Reagan: “Thou shalt not speak ill of a liberal”.

    • For example:

      We conclude over-the-counter derivatives contributed significantly to this
      crisis. The enactment of legislation in 2000 to ban the regulation by both the federal
      and state governments of over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives was a key turning
      point in the march toward the financial crisis.

      These were not illegal, yet were one of the single greatest contributors of the financial meltdown. As was deregulation. As was TBTF banks….

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