Attorney General Eric Holder will announce Thursday he is stepping down from the post he has held for nearly six years—making him one of the longest-serving attorneys general in American history.
Holder was the first African-American to hold the position and will surely be remembered as a trailblazer for civil rights. From sentencing reform to combating voter suppression to investigating some of the country’s most violent police forces, Holder made huge progressive strides. It’s no coincidence Holder called the civil rights icon Representative John Lewis on Tuesday before his resignation became public. White House officials are already pushing out narratives about Holder’s “historic legacy of civil rights enforcement and restoring fairness to the criminal justice system.”
But there is one area where Holder falls woefully short: prosecution of Wall Street firms and executives. He came into office just months after widespread fraud and malfeasance in the financial sector brought the American economy to its knees, and yet no executive has faced criminal prosecution. Beyond the crash, Holder established a disturbing pattern of allowing large financial institutions escape culpability.
“His record is really badly blemished by his nearly overwhelming failure to hold corporate criminals accountable,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “Five years later, we can say he did almost nothing to hold the perpetrators of the crisis accountable.”
Advocates for financial accountability often point to the Savings and Loan crisis as a counter-example: despite much smaller-scale fraud, 1,000 bankers were convicted in federal prosecutions and many went to prison.
Holder has tried to explain his lack of prosecutions relating to the 2008 collapse by claiming the cases were too hard to prove—but many experts disagree. The Sarbanes Oxley Act, for example, would provide a straightforward template: it makes it a crime for executives to sign inaccurate financial statements, and there is ample evidence that Wall Street CEOs were aware of the toxicity of the sub-prime mortgages sold by their firms.