By Aruna Viswanatha
WASHINGTON, Jan 30 (Reuters) - The head of the U.S. Justice
Department's criminal division, who has shouldered much of the
blame for bringing few cases related to the financial crisis,
but who also led the unit to record settlements, will step down
on March 1.
Lanny Breuer, 54, who previously worked as a defense lawyer
and in the Clinton White House, has led the division since 2009.
His deputy, Mythili Raman, will serve as acting head of the
division once Breuer departs.
Breuer said he planned to join a law firm or another
position in the private sector, but said he had yet to begin
talks with any prospective employers.
"As I wrote to the President, and want to tell you, serving
as the head of this remarkable Division has been the greatest
privilege of my professional life," Breuer said in a memo to
criminal division employees dated Tuesday.
Critics blamed Breuer for the department's failure to bring
major prosecutions against companies and individuals who played
a role in the 2007-2009 financial crisis, including
taxpayer-rescued American International Group or Goldman Sachs,
the subject of congressional scrutiny for the way it sold
securities to investors.
But Breuer also steered the division to enter into several
record-breaking settlements involving financial and
BP Plc agreed to a $4 billion penalty over the 2010 Gulf oil
spill, HSBC Holdings Plc forfeited $1.2 billion over money
laundering lapses, and several top banks agreed to fines in the
hundreds of millions of dollars to resolve charges that they
manipulated benchmark interest rates including Libor.
"I'd like to think that my successor will find the criminal
division is at the center of many of the largest criminal law
cases and criminal policy issues," Breuer said in an interview.
While the division has historically helped regional U.S.
attorneys pursue fraud and other criminal cases and handled a
mix of its own matters involving public corruption, healthcare
fraud, computer crimes and foreign bribery, it often left the
biggest financial fraud cases to the U.S. Attorney's office in
When Breuer joined the department, he restructured the
division and recruited new prosecutors and managers from top
tier law firms and other federal prosecuting offices including
from Manhattan, an office which did not often lose talent to the
Washington-based criminal division.
The Fraud Section within the division had 3,000 candidates
apply for about three dozen spots in the past few years.
New courtroom training exercises also have led to record
numbers of trials. The Public Integrity Section, for example,
tried 28 cases in the past two years and secured 23 guilty
verdicts and one guilty plea.
But the changes have elicited mixed reviews from insiders.
Some have said that new supervisor-level positions have created
additional layers of bureaucracy that slow cases and give the
division the structure of a big law firm.
Others likened the greater supervision in Washington to
similar programs in such elite prosecuting offices as New
BACK TO PRIVATE PRACTICE
Breuer has defended the department's lack of cases tied to
the financial crisis in public forums and on such television
programs such as 60 Minutes and Frontline, becoming something of
a public face for the issue.
As Assistant Attorney General, Breuer said, it was important
to articulate the position of the Department of Justice. But he
also pointed out that there were 94 U.S. Attorneys offices.
"Nobody brought these cases," he told Reuters.
Breuer and others have said the department investigated the
cases thoroughly, but did not find enough evidence to prove
"Not once in my four years did career prosecutors come to me
and say, 'We have this case with this very narrow securitization
issue and we should bring it,' and I said 'no'."
As Breuer re-enters the private sector, possible prospects
include returning to Covington & Burling, where he and Attorney
General Eric Holder worked before joining the Justice
Breuer could also join Jenner & Block, which is home to
other alumni from the Obama administration and recently lost its
top white-collar defense lawyer when Andrew Weismann joined the
FBI as its general counsel.
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