Newly confirmed Attorney General Loretta Lynch has made it clear that she plans to get tough on financial crime. During her confirmation hearing in January, Lynch testified that she “looks forward to taking a very aggressive stance” in reviewing the conduct of financial institutions for potential illegality. She plans to review not only past conduct, but current and prospective conduct as well. In an apparent response to criticism that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) had in the past considered some financial institutions too big to prosecute, Lynch testified that in her view no one is “too big to jail.” She has said she will continue using the DOJ’s law enforcement power to make “major changes” to the way financial institutions are structured. If entities fail to take a DOJ investigation seriously enough, or fail to take sufficient preventative steps, they may find themselves facing criminal charges.
While Lynch seems keen to avoid the criticism that some parties leveled at her predecessor for a supposed failure to aggressively prosecute large financial institutions, she also has an encouraging history of rewarding corporate cooperation. In 2012, during Lynch’s tenure as United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, her office declined to take any enforcement action against a major investment bank that cooperated with the DOJ in its case against an individual employee who was prosecuted for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). In subsequent remarks about that declination, Lynch has said she credited the corporation’s internal controls, self-reporting and extensive cooperation with the government. This may indicate that, although Lynch intends to prioritize prosecutions of financial crimes as Attorney General, she could be sympathetic to companies that are sufficiently vigilant about preventing and reporting wrongdoing.
In addition to her focus on financial crime, Lynch also plans to prioritize the DOJ’s efforts to combat the growing threat of cyber crime. One of her first acts as Attorney General was to deliver remarks at the DOJ Criminal Division’s Cybersecurity Industry Roundtable. She has also noted that there are “cyber issues in every type of case” the DOJ prosecutes now. The DOJ’s Criminal and National Security Divisions have been focused on cyber security for some time, and while apprehension and prosecution are important, Lynch is equally focused on prevention. She plans to improve the technological resources available to law enforcement, and continue developing the DOJ’s partnerships with private industry in order to stay a step ahead. This is consistent with her previous focus on prosecuting cyber criminals in the Eastern District. In 2013, for example, Lynch announced charges against multiple hackers in connection with a cyber attack on the worldwide financial system that allegedly resulted in nearly $50 million in losses. Discussing the arrests, she said she would “not relent until all those responsible for these financially devastating cybercrimes are brought to justice.”
Lynch also plans to use her past experience in the Eastern District of New York, which has prosecuted more terrorism-related cases than any other U.S. Attorney’s office, to continue the DOJ’s efforts to disrupt terrorist threats. Lynch’s focus is not limited to prosecuting terrorists themselves. During her tenure as a United States Attorney, Lynch used a number of tools, including significant monetary settlements, to punish those accused of financing terrorism. In a settlement Lynch herself helped negotiate in 2012, HSBC agreed to pay $1.92 billion to settle allegations that, among other things, the bank facilitated the transfer of millions of dollars to terrorists overseas. Calling the prevention of terrorism the DOJ’s “primary mission,” Lynch has vowed to “protect not just American citizens, but American values.” She has referred to the Constitution as her “lodestar,” and although Lynch believes the National Security Agency’s controversial surveillance program is constitutional, she has vowed to work with Congress to increase the transparency of government surveillance.
In addition to these substantial priorities, Lynch will also spearhead the DOJ’s existing strategic plan, which includes a number of additional objectives. In the criminal context, the DOJ’s priorities include combatting violent crime and prosecuting violent offenders through the use of strategic partnerships, prosecuting illegal firearms traffickers, preventing criminal activity that targets vulnerable populations, upholding the rights of crime victims and improving services available to them, disrupting drug trafficking organizations, generally combatting the use of illegal drugs and protecting civil rights by preventing and prosecuting discriminatory practices.
Attorney General Lynch has set out an extensive agenda covering a wide spectrum of law enforcement priorities. As the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, she backed up her tough talk on financial crime, cyber security and terrorism with action. She has not been shy about expressing her intention to bring the same doggedness to the Office of the Attorney General.