The dominant theme of Thursday’s Senate Banking Committee hearing with Jay Clayton, nominee for chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, was conflict of interest. Not the well-documented conflicts of some of the more notorious members of the Trump administration but the conflicts of Clayton himself.
A partner at the high-powered corporate law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, Clayton represented Wall Street banks throughout his career. He served as Goldman Sachs’s lawyer during the Wall Street bailout, allowing it to emerge from the financial crisis relatively unscathed. He helped deliver failed investment bank Bear Stearns to JPMorgan Chase and other failed investment bank Lehman Brothers to Barclays. He defended Ally Financial in its foreclosure fraud settlement with the government and represented Deutsche Bank in its “mirror trade” Russian oligarch money laundering scandal. He was the lawyer of record with mortgage servicer Ocwen during a scandal so distasteful the CEO was forced to resign. Oh yeah, also his wife is a broker at Goldman Sachs. (She reportedly plans to step down upon Clayton’s confirmation.) Matt Taibbi rightly suggested that Clayton would be “the most conflicted SEC Chair ever,” and given the history of SEC chairs, that’s saying a lot.
Clayton’s non-bank clients raise more alarm. They include Valeant, the scandal-ridden pharmaceutical company, and Volkswagen, which deceived the public by cheating-diesel emissions tests. According to Public Citizen, Clayton’s family gets millions of dollars in annual dividends from a private company named WMB Holdings, some of which Clayton plans to retain even if confirmed. This company and its affiliated partners (Delaware Trust Co and CSC) are conduits for creating shell corporations and other sketchy vehicles used in tax evasion and money laundering. Public Citizen found apparent links between these companies and Mossack Fonseca, the notorious Panamanian law firm at the center of the Panama Papers scandal.