Ignore Dick Thornburgh
After John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales, former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh doesn't seem so bad. Sure, he didn't think that federal prosecutors should play by the same ethical standards that bind defense attorneys. Yes, he rabidly fought the drug war. But at least he didn't run the entire Constitution through a paper shredder. And unlike Gonzales, who took instruction from Karl Rove, Thornburgh was once sued by Rove.
In yesterday's New York Times, Thornburgh argues that white collar criminals deserve to be prosecuted, and urges the Obama administration to hire more FBI agents and prosecutors, but not to change any laws. He has it just about backwards.
Thornburgh seems to understand the problem. [more ....]
Unfortunately, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has moved so many agents out of its crime-fighting ranks into anti-terrorism activities that sufficient staff and spending may not be available for the painstaking task of following the sophisticated paper trails that are characteristic of major white-collar offenses.
This misallocation of resources should first be solved by a sensible reallocation. Tell the IRS to stop chasing drug crimes and to investigate white collar crime instead. Reduce the number of agents and prosecutors who are trying to scare up terrorism prosecutions and put them to work on financial crimes. Only after resources are allocated responsibly should the Justice Department decide whether it needs more accountants, agents, or prosecutors. "More cops on the street" might be unnecessary if we use the cops already on the street more effectively.
It's interesting to read Thornburgh's advice against passing "new laws purporting to supplement our already top-heavy inventory of crime-fighting tools." Did Thornburgh think his inventory was top-heavy when he was AG? Of course, Thornburgh didn't have the Patriot Act.
Thornburgh's vague claim that a "wave of new legislation could pose a genuine threat to economic stability and prospects for a recovery" sounds like an endorsement of continued deregulation of the financial industry. Thornburgh calls for the prosecution of Bernard Madoff for an "apparent $50 billion scam" while arguing that Madoff's case "illustrates the inability of federal regulatory agencies to prevent unlawful conduct." Inability or unwillingness? When an agency's prevailing philosophy is "We don't want to get in your way by looking over your shoulder or asking you to do any paperwork," crime prevention takes a back seat to profit promotion.
New legislation (whether arriving in a wave or a gentle ripple) might define unlawful conduct more clearly or require more detailed disclosures of complex financial investments, allowing regulatory agencies to do their jobs more effectively. It's hard to believe that new laws safeguarding against another financial industry meltdown -- laws that ordinary investors should welcome -- would harm the economy. They are more likely to strengthen faith in a recovery.
Here's better advice for the Obama administration: ignore Dick Thornburgh.
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