Business-friendly sessions won’t be easy with corporate crimes: attorneys

© Reuters. Senator Jeff Sessions delivers a nomination speech for Republican presidential candidate Trump at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

By Nathan Layne and Joel Schectman

(Reuters) – Jeff Sessions may be known as a pro-business conservative, but as a U.S. attorney general he is unlikely to avoid indicting large companies and individuals for serious white-collar crimes, legal experts said, citing his record as a legislator. .

On Friday, President-elect Donald Trump appointed Sessions, a four-term senator from Alabama and a former federal prosecutor, to head the Justice Department. Sessions, 69, one of Trump’s earliest supporters, is expected to accept the cabinet position if confirmed.

A spokesperson for Sessions did not respond to a request for comment.

Due to the shortage of large banks and businesses in his home state, there is little in Sessions’ track record as a federal attorney and state attorney general from the 1970s to the 1990s to suggest how he could tackle complex corporate malfeasance cases.

But a review of his record in the Senate indicates that he will likely push for corporate indictments, rather than settle for fines, and could focus on putting more executives in prison, lawyers who specialize in white-collar crimes said.

For example, during a 2010 confirmation hearing for James Cole, Sessions questioned the former US Deputy Attorney General on the “dangerous” philosophy of not criminally indicting companies because of concerns that doing so could lead to bankruptcy. and harm employees and shareholders.

“Normally, they taught me that if they broke a law, you charge them. If they didn’t break the law, you don’t charge them,” Sessions said during the hearing.


Matthew Schwartz, a former federal prosecutor and attorney for Boies, Schiller & Flexner, said Sessions’s comments suggested that he may be more willing than the current administration to demand a guilty plea from the corporations with less concern about collateral consequences.

He said Sessions would likely also support the Justice Department’s renewed efforts to prosecute the executives, outlined in a policy memorandum last year from Assistant Attorney General Sally Yates.

While he was a brash businessman, Trump was highly critical of Hillary Clinton’s ties to Wall Street, accusing her Democratic rival of being in debt to the interests of the big investment banks.

That message resonated with many working-class voters who suffered through the 2008 financial crisis and are still angry that no high-level Wall Street figure has been prosecuted for acts that nearly brought down the global financial system.

“Until we see evidence to the contrary, it appears that the new Department of Justice will seek to hold each individual to the fullest extent possible. So the stakes may be higher, ”said Schwartz.


Jackson Sharman, a white-collar defense attorney in Alabama, said he believed Sessions would want to be as tough on white-collars as he was on street criminals. He pointed to Sessions’ recent opposition to a crime bill that would have shown leniency in sentencing for non-violent offenders.

Daniel Richman, a former federal prosecutor and professor at Columbia Law School, who has testified before the Sessions Senate Judiciary Committee, agreed that the Alabama senator will be “a strong supporter” of the corporate application.

In the past, Sessions has spoken out in favor of the Justice Department’s tough tactics against companies accused of fraud.

In 2007, corporate advisers lobbied for a law that would have prevented the Justice Department from pressuring companies to waive attorney-client privilege during fraud investigations.

But during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sessions argued against the rule, noting that prosecutors regularly pressure street criminals to waive constitutional rights using the threat of harsher penalties if they don’t cooperate.

Sessions said the Justice Department should be able to use similar influence against corporations.

Corporate crime “is not easy to prosecute or investigate. They have the best attorneys you can find and they use all the legitimate tools they have, ”Sessions said. “And you have to be strong … a prosecutor cannot be a weak person who faces a large company in a fraud case.”