What a blessing Elizabeth Warren's election to the Senate has been. She is wasting no time.
At her first hearing in the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee - which took place on Valentine's Day, she lovingly took the regulators to the woodshed. Various regulators from the FDIC, SEC, OCC, CFPB, CFTC, Fed and Treasury were before the Committee and got to experience the newly minted Senator's sweet demeanor which, nevertheless, carries quite a punch.
The hearing was titled "Wall Street Reform: Oversight of Financial Stability and Consumer and Investor Protections."
Sen. Warren's question to the regulators was quite simply: "When was the last time you took a Wall Street bank to trial?" She could not get a straight answer.
"We do not have to bring people to trial," Thomas Curry, head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, assured Warren, declaring that his agency had secured a large number of "consent orders," or settlements.Here's the video - enjoy all seven and a half minutes of it:
"I appreciate that you say you don't have to bring them to trial. My question is, when did you bring them to trial?" she responded.
"We have not had to do it as a practical matter to achieve our supervisory goals," Curry offered.
Warren turned to Elisse Walter, chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, who said that the agency weighs how much it can extract from a bank without taking it to court against the cost of going to trial.
"I appreciate that. That's what everybody does," said Warren, a former Harvard law professor. "Can you identify the last time when you took the Wall Street banks to trial?"
"I will have to get back to you with specific information," Walter said as the audience tittered.
"There are district attorneys and United States attorneys out there every day squeezing ordinary citizens on sometimes very thin grounds and taking them to trial in order to make an example, as they put it. I'm really concerned that 'too big to fail' has become 'too big for trial,'" Warren said.
Sen. Warren then sums it up: "Anyone else want to tell me the last time you took a Wall Street Bank to trial? I just want to note on this, there are District Attorneys and U.S. Attorneys who are out there every day squeezing ordinary citizens on sometimes very thin grounds and taking them to trial in order to make an example as they put it.
I am really concerned that Too Big to Fail has become too big for trial! That just seems wrong to me."
This may also have been a reference to Internet activist Aaron Swartz who recently committed suicide after being hounded by federal prosecutors.
We are fortunate to have Elizabeth Warren in the Senate. More of this to come!