Audit Notes: Jamie Dimon’s doings, WSJ on Elizabeth Warren

JPMorgan Chase manages to avoid prosecution yet again, this time in Madoff case

The New York Times reports on page one today that the Justice Department will bring a “criminal action” against Jamie Dimon’s fraud-ridden JPMorgan Chase.

What is this criminal action? A big ($2 billion) fine and a deferred-prosecution agreement, which is where the defendant promises not to commit the crime again for a few years ago.

Until now, no big Wall Street bank has ever been subjected to such an agreement, which is typically deployed only when misconduct is severe. JPMorgan, the authorities suspect, continued to serve as Mr. Madoff’s primary bank even as questions mounted about his operation, with one bank executive acknowledging before the arrest that Mr. Madoff’s “Oz-like signals” were “too difficult to ignore,” according to a private lawsuit.

JPMorgan, which declined to comment for this article, has repeatedly said that “all personnel acted in good faith” in the Madoff matter. No one at JPMorgan has been accused of wrongdoing and the bank was not the only one to miss Mr. Madoff’s fraud, which duped regulators and clients for decades.

Bloomberg’s Jonathan Weil:

And following the law is something JPMorgan has recently had trouble doing from time to time. But even if it did get caught breaking the law again, the government probably would still find some rationale for not indicting the bank.

— Weil also notices a striking comment from Dimon at a Goldman Sachs conference this week:

“We have control issues we’ve got to fix,” the JPMorgan chief executive officer said. “We’re taking an ax to it. We’re going to fix the problems that have been identified.” This is an interesting thing for him to say, because in JPMorgan’s latest quarterly report, Dimon certified that JPMorgan’s disclosure controls and procedures were effective. The company didn’t flag any problems with the bank’s internal accounting controls, either.

Weil’s referring to the Sarbanes-Oxley law, which forced CEOs to attest under penalty of law that their controls are effective. That rule, once seen as a powerful tool for prosecutors, been a bust.

Perhaps Dimon only learned that his controls were ineffective after his bank’s third-quarter report.

Read this 2012 piece by Reuters’s Alison Frankel on why Sox has turned out to be a bust—and the WSJ’s Michael Rapoport while you’re at it.

Then check out Yves Smith from 2011 on why these Sox sections should have been used to prosecute bank CEOs for their actions that led to the financial crisis.

— Falsehoods on The Wall Street Journal editorial page are like fleas on a dog, but this one, in an anti-Elizabeth Warren editorial, is particularly disingenuous:

Messrs. Cowan and Kessler had the temerity to suggest that the average American voter might not be as liberal as the New Yorkers who chose Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio or the Massachusetts voters who fell for Senator Elizabeth Warren. They argued that economic populism of the redistributionist kind was a political loser in most of America…

But the progressives didn’t try to rebut the op-ed’s arguments. Instead they set out to silence Third Way, intimidate Democratic politicians and donors into disavowing the group, and discredit the think tank on grounds that—gasp!—some of its supporters work at financial companies.

Here are just a few of the many progressive rebuttals the WSJ somehow missed. Yves Smith:

The article contained the usual canards about pending Social Security “insolvency” and played the predictable age cohort warfare card. In fact, merely raising the cap on payroll taxes would be a sufficient fix; Dean Baker points out that the cost of Social Security will increase from 5% of GDP to 6%, which if the US focused on job and wage growth, is entirely manageable.


As it turns out, the policies Third Way trashes as “disastrous” are overwhelmingly popular with a broad spectrum of Americans. Meanwhile the alternatives proposed by Third Way are rejected by voters by even greater margins.

Paul Krugman:

On Social Security, they’re still in the camp insisting that because the system might possibly have to pay lower benefits in the future, we must move now to cut future benefits. Oh, kay.
But anyway, they declare that Medicare is the bigger issue. So what’s this about “staunch refusal” to address Medicare? The Affordable Care Act contains lots of measures to limit Medicare costs and health care more generally — it’s Republicans, not progressive Democrats, who have been screaming against cost-saving measures (death panels!). And health cost growth has slowed dramatically, feeding into much better Medicare projections.

And finally, Elizabeth Warren herself:

“It’s just flatly wrong,” Warren said of Third Way’s critique. “We could make modest adjustments and make the system financially stable for a century, and we could make somewhat larger adjustments and make the system pay more for seniors who rely on it … The conversation for too long has been about whether to cut Social Security benefits a little bit or a lot. And that is flatly the wrong debate to have in mind.”

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,