Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivered the keynote address Monday to a major professional group, emphasizing his department’s continued commitment to prosecuting white collar crime.
The Ethics and Compliance Initiative (ECI), an association of lawyers, academics, and other professionals in the world of corporate compliance, invited the new attorney general to address their annual conference in Washington, DC. Sessions was introduced by Larry Thompson, the organization’s board chairman. Thompson served as deputy attorney general under president George W. Bush, and would even share rooms with Sessions when the two came to Washington as fellow U.S. Attorneys in the 1980s.
“We don’t want to see you in court, and sure you don’t want to see the Department of Justice in court,” Sessions joked to begin his address, explaining the importance of ethics and compliance professionals in developing best practices to avoid corporate misconduct before it occurs.
The attorney general went on to stress the centrality of the strong rule of law to the American way of life, and that each generation could not “take it for granted.”
“We’re going to enforce the law. We’re not going to back down to powerful forces, big companies, or any other interests,” Sessions assured the group. “That includes corporate misconduct, fraud, foreign corruption, and other types of white collar crime.”
Sessions explained that the implementation of best practices by compliance professionals and evenhanded enforcement by the DOJ served to “protect honest businesses.”
“Companies that obey the law and do the right thing should not be at a disadvantage simply because their competitors choose to break the law,” he said.
ECI CEO Patricia Harned was “delighted” that the Attorney General chose to address the compliance community. She told Breitbart News, “I think our community is really pleased by his visit here … Having him acknowledge that ethics and compliance programs are valuable and that the Department [of Justice] cares about promoting that in corporations is very positive.”
A major issue in DOJ enforcement in the white collar realm is what consideration to give to the existence of strong compliance programs at corporations whose employees commit misconduct. Sessions confirmed that his Justice Department would continue to consider these programs in making a decision whether to go after corporations, in addition to the individuals themselves. “Something is not quite fair if honest corporate shareholders end up having to pay the price for dishonest corporate leadership,” Sessions said. “When we make a charging decision we will continue to take into account whether or not these [companies] have good compliance programs.”
Harned explained to Breitbart News that, among her members, the most pressing question for the new attorney general was how many of the criteria for evaluating compliance programs would remain the same in the new administration. She was optimistic about Sessions’s direction so far: “His willingness to hear from this community and the business community about what the issues are when it comes to enforcement and, most importantly, how the Department can incentivize good programs was really critical,” she said.
Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement against American companies that engage in bribery and other misconduct abroad continues to be a major element of white collar criminal prosecution. “Congress enacted this law 40 years ago when some companies considered it a routine expense to bribe foreign officials,” Sessions told the crowd. The United States was a pioneer in aggressive enforcement of this kind and, in recent years, more countries have begun prosecuting these types of offenses.
Despite his commitment to vigorous enforcement, Sessions expressed his willingness to reexamine our white collar laws in this new world where American multinationals may be subject to many countries’ white collar regimes at once:
We need to look at rules and procedures and laws that may be disadvantaging our companies, disadvantaging our ability to expand and increase our productivity … It was a big issue in this last election and its something I’ve believed in for a long time.
Sessions also hit on the big overarching initiatives at his Justice Department, including immigration enforcement and efforts to combat the spike in violent crime. “We need to restore a lawful system of immigration,” he explained, adding:
We’re not going to end immigration. We admit lawful 1.1 Million people into the United States each year. We have millions of visitors each year … None of that is going to be ended, but I believe the American people are good, decent, right, and just to insist their government end this illegality.
Harned asked Sessions after his address about what he does in his off time. “Well, I don’t have any time,” Sessions joked, using the opportunity to harp on the need to get his team in place at DOJ as soon as possible. He told the ECI he hoped to have Rod Rosenstein, his pick for Deputy Attorney General, in place by this Wednesday, and his Associate Attorney General nominee, Rachel Brand, confirmed shortly thereafter.
“Those picks are individuals who have rich experience in the department … the response has been positive,” Harned told Breitbart News about the compliance community’s impression of Sessions’s selections.