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'Tough on Crime' Jeff Sessions Touts Plummeting Corporate Crime Enforcement Like It's an Achievement

Attorney General's time at the Justice Department has resulted in near-record low white-collar crime prosecutions

Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at the Religious Liberty Summit at the Department of Justice July 30, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

On Wednesday of this week, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) touted the agency’s fiscal year 2018 enforcement record even as the figures show that prosecution of white-collar crimes and corporate misconduct have plummeted.

"Sessions aims to criminalize immigrants and people of color, but he and the president coddle corporate wrongdoers."Attorney General Jeff Sessions is bragging that he’s sending more people to prison than ever, or at least charging more people with crimes than ever before. The self-proclaimed “tough on crime” Sessions is spiking prosecutions on immigration and drug charges – unsurprising and unjust outcomes of his misnamed “zero tolerance” enforcement policies.

But Tough Guy Sessions is showing an astoundingly gentle touch when it comes to corporate crime. Sessions says prosecutions of white-collar crime increased 3 percent to more than 6,500. But white-collar prosecutions remain perilously close to a record low; the increase means fiscal year 2018 is now the third-lowest year for white-collar prosecutions in the past 20 years, according to data from Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

And corporate criminal prosecutions have plummeted even more egregiously. The number of DOJ enforcement actions against corporations is down 9 percent from the previous year, and penalties against corporate wrongdoers have plunged by more than a third.

Table: Count of DOJ Corporate Enforcement Actions and Penalties, Fiscal Year 2017 Compared to Fiscal Year 2018


FY 2017

FY 2018


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% Change

Corporate Enforcements




Corporate Penalties




Source: Public Citizen analysis of Violation Tracker and DOJ data.

Public Citizen’s July 2018 Corporate Impunity report documented plummeting corporate enforcement in Sessions’ DOJ and throughout the Trump administration.

Trump is no law-and-order president, and it’s definitely not a law-and-order administration. Sessions aims to criminalize immigrants and people of color, but he and the president coddle corporate wrongdoers. The declines in corporate enforcement reflect an array of policy decisions and allocation of enforcement resources, all of which aim to let corporations escape accountability when they pollute our air, endanger workers, cheat the government, bribe foreign officials and more.

Robert Weissman

Robert Weissman

Robert Weissman is the president of Public Citizen. Weissman was formerly director of Essential Action, editor of Multinational Monitor, a magazine that tracks corporate actions worldwide, and a public interest attorney at the Center for Study of Responsive Law. He was a leader in organizing the 2000 IMF and World Bank protests in D.C. and helped make HIV drugs available to the developing world.


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