In August, Jesse Eisinger of ProPublica and I broke the story of how Trump political appointees at the DOJ in Washington had overruled career prosecutors in multibillion-dollar cases against two British banks. Barclays and the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) were both accused of misleading buyers of residential-mortgage-backed securities prior to the 2008 financial crisis.
In the waning months of the Obama administration, the DOJ unsuccessfully sought a settlement with Barclays in the high single digits of billions of dollars, according to sources who were granted anonymity to discuss confidential talks. After Trump took office, lawyers for Barclays contacted political appointees in the associate attorney general’s office. Career prosecutors in Brooklyn then got a directive from Washington to resolve the case for about $2 billion. Ultimately, the case was settled for exactly $2 billion.
In the RBS case, career prosecutors in Boston initially wanted to bring criminal charges, rather than just civil counts. But they were overruled by then–Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein after he met with the bank’s lawyers. The career prosecutors subsequently discussed seeking a settlement in the $9 billion to $10 billion range, but were instructed by DOJ officials in Washington to go no higher than $6.6 billion. The RBS case was eventually settled for $4.9 billion.
These instances of political influence were obviously not as blatant as the meddling in the Stone case. They did not involve charges against friends of the president. There is no evidence that then–Attorney General Jeff Sessions or the White House played any role in securing more favorable outcomes for the banks. No career prosecutors resigned in protest. Still, it is hard to imagine events like those that unfolded yesterday without the intermediate steps that came first.
Read: The president humiliates his own Department of Justice
Nor is the Justice Department the only supposedly independent federal agency that the president is politicizing.
As I reported last month, multiple former high-level Wells Fargo executives are facing the possibility of federal criminal charges in connection with the bank’s phony-account scandal. This investigation dates back to the Obama administration, but it’s not paranoid to wonder if the DOJ’s more recent decision making has been influenced by President Trump’s priorities. Trump has suggested that he is out to get Wells Fargo, putting pressure on federal banking regulators to treat the San Francisco bank as he, rather than they, sees fit. In a December 2017 tweet, Trump wrote: “Fines and penalties against Wells Fargo Bank for their bad acts against their customers and other will not be dropped, as has incorrectly been reported, but will be pursued and, if anything, substantially increased.”