WASHINGTON -- In a scorching speech from the Senate floor on Wednesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said the American criminal justice system is rigged in favor of the wealthy, and condemned new legislation that would make it harder to prosecute bank fraud.
"There are two legal systems," Warren said. "One for the rich and powerful, and one for everyone else."
Warren's office issued a report earlier this week documenting 20 cases in which federal officials had enough evidence against corporate malfeasance to issue fines. In most of the cases, companies were not even required to admit guilt. In only one case did a corporate offender go to jail -- Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, who received a 3-month sentence over a mine disaster that killed 29 people.
"It's not equal justice when a kid gets thrown in jail for stealing a car, while a CEO gets a huge raise when his company steals billions," Warren said. "It's not equal justice when someone hooked on opioids gets locked up for buying pills on the street, but bank executives get off scot-free for laundering nearly a billion dollars of drug cartel money."
"One legal system is for big companies, for the wealthy and the powerful. In this legal system, government officials fret about unintended consequences if they are too tough." But in the second legal system, Warren said, "government enforcement isn't timid."
"Just ask the families of Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray and Michael Brown about how aggressive [police and prosecutors] are," Warren said.
WATCH Warren's remarks in the video below:
Warren said it is time for Congress to pass criminal justice reform easing the severe sentences for nonviolent offenses. And she called out Republicans for demanding a new amendment that would impose broad "mens rea" reform that would bar prosecutors from pursuing a wide array of corporate offenses, including gross negligence by CEOs.
"Republican politicians love to say they’re tough on crime," Warren said. "They love to talk about personal responsibility and accountability -- when they're back home in their districts. But right here in Washington they are pushing to make it even easier for corporate criminals to escape justice. ...That is shameful."
Billionaire Republican donors Charles and David Koch have been pushing for the corporate crime relief amendment. But Republicans are not, in fact, the only supporters of the Koch-backed bill. Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) are both co-sponsors.
Warren also railed against a House bill scheduled for a vote on Thursday that would strip prosecutors of the authority to pursue an array of bank fraud cases in which the bank actually commits a crime. Instead, under the bill, prosecutors would only be able to address cases in which the bank is a victim of the crime.
That bill, written by Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.), includes three Democrats among its 30 co-sponsors -- Reps. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.) and Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.). Murphy is currently running for Senate.
The White House issued a statement on Tuesday saying it "strongly opposes" the bill, saying it would hamstring efforts "to protect the United States financial system from money laundering, terrorist financing, and other serious financial crimes."
Zach Carter is a co-host of the HuffPost Politics podcast "So, That Happened." Subscribe here or listen to the latest episode below:
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