In remarks on Wednesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren criticized the failure of both federal regulators and Justice Department officials to prosecute or otherwise hold to account Wall Street banks and financial institutions despite their long and steady pattern of "blatantly criminal activity."
Speaking at conference hosted by the Levy Economics Institute, Sen. Warren was firm in her denunciation of regulators—including those at the Security and Exchange Commission and the Federal Reserve—for not using the tools already available to them and for largely failing to meet their oversight obligations.
"The SEC needs to get its act together," Warren told the attendees. "In all sorts of ways and on all sorts of issues."
She also had stern words for the DOJ, which she says has repeatedly failed to use criminal statutes at its disposal. "The Department of Justice doesn’t take big financial institutions to trial ever—even when financial institutions engage in blatantly criminal activity," said Warren, according to a copy of her prepared remarks.
Additionally, Warren castigated those who argue that such strong regulations are somehow anti-business or anti-market.
In an interview with the Huffington Post's Zach Carter subsequent to her public remarks, Warren explained: "The opponents of financial reform have cast the debate as rules vs. markets, that somehow anyone who believes in rules is anti-market. Rules are not the enemy of markets. They protect markets from blowing up. The real fight isn't between markets and rules. And it never has been. It's between competitive capitalism and crony capitalism."
Markets don't work, she explained, if regulators won't enforce the rules and prosecutors won't prosecute criminals. Warren also re-iterated to Carter her belief that breaking up the biggest banks should remain a top priority.
Though Warren has garnered a national following among progressives for her strong stance against Wall Street malfeasance in recent years, the senator from Massachusetts has made it clear she has no plans to run for the Democratic nomination for president despite a mobilized effort to draft her as a left-wing challenger to Hillary Clinton.
Clinton, who officially announced her candidacy on Sunday, has been striking a generally populist tone during her first few campaign events this week. However, as reporting by Politico on Thursday morning reveals, some of her financial backers on Wall Street—with a collective response of "Meh"—remain unconcerned about Clinton's remarks about economic inequality, raising the minimum wage, or getting tougher on Wall Street. From Politico's reporting:
[According to] senior financiers, any grumbling [about Clinton's latest rhetoric] comes from those who do not understand political reality or who are predisposed to oppose Clinton. They take refuge in the idea that Clinton’s rhetoric is more reflective of political necessity than some deep-seated animosity toward the wealthy.
“Basically this is a Rorschach test for how politically sophisticated people are,” said one Democrat at a top Wall Street firm. “If someone is upset by this it’s because they have no idea how populist the mood of the country still is. And what she said is just demonstrably true. People at the top have done well and those at the bottom not so well.”
“The fact is,” the Democrat added, “if she didn’t say this stuff now she would be open to massive attacks from the left, and would have to say even more dramatic stuff later.”