Rather than targeting entire corporations, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the Justice Department is focusing its efforts on individuals whose decisions have led to “criminal liability” for the corporation.
“We want you to focus on responsibility, on accountability, and making sure that anyone who is behaving in a way that takes your company down a path of criminal activity be not a part of the process — and that’s something that we’ll be taking very seriously,” Lynch told the audience at Forbes’ Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington.
Lynch was specifically asked about DOJ’s policy of prosecuting individuals for wrongdoing in corporate America. The moderator said some corporate executives felt there was a “shakedown” under Eric Holder, her predecessor, for invalid reasons.
“We are following the facts and evidence where they lead and where either an entity or an individual has caused considerable harm, we will follow the facts and the law to that individual or to that entity. And it is our responsibility to hold them accountable for behavior that has significantly harmed individuals, citizens, people in this country,” she responded.
Lynch has noticed during the course of her career that sometimes there is a “disconnect” between corporate America and law enforcement.
“I would spend time talking to my clients who would say, ‘we feel unfairly targeted, we feel this is just a way to get a big fine out of us, don’t they care about the people they might put out of business?’” she said.
“And I would have to talk about my time as a prosecutor and the focus on protecting people from criminal conduct, particularly corporate conduct, which can have wide-ranging and far reaching circumstances – the government’s obligation to speak for the victims of crime,” she added.
Lynch explained that DOJ is focused on identifying individuals at corporations who make decisions that cause “great harm” and lead to “criminal liability” for a company.
“For companies that want to cooperate with the government, we start with an investigation that focuses on individuals who have in fact contributed to or directed the actions that led to criminal culpability,” Lynch said. “To get credit for cooperation, that has to be part of the equation — it is telling the complete story. It is essentially holding everyone accountable.”
Lynch also told the audience that it is “very painful” for her to see what has been happening with local law enforcement in the country.
“Painful to me as someone who is very involved in the system and wants to see it work fairly and freely for everyone, but we’re seeing unfortunate confrontations between law enforcement and civilians and we are also seeing law enforcement relationships essentially go bad. We are seeing communities lose trust in law enforcement and lose faith in the system,” she said.
“I think the unfortunate impact of seeing all this on video has been it’s tragic and it’s chilling, but what we can take from it is we can now fully understand what many minority communities have been saying for a number of years about their experience, about their interaction with police and we can open up that dialogue.”
Lynch said she hopes that cities that have worked to foster a more positive relationship between police and the public can share their experiences with Baltimore, Ferguson and others.