President Trump likes to boast that he is tough on crime, but his administration's crackdown on illegal activity does not seem to apply to corporate wrongdoers.
Desperately poor undocumented immigrants are subjected to “zero-tolerance” policies such as prosecution, indefinite imprisonment, family separation, and deportation. Meanwhile, authorities often look the other way when the rich break the law.
Salon noted that although Trump claims the Justice Department is “restoring law and order” and “making America safe again,” officials are seemingly blind to violations of statutes that protect consumers and the environment. Instead, the administration is racing to dismantle regulations designed to safeguard the public and rein in corporate greed.
A Public Citizen analysis revealed a steep drop in fines and other punishment for white-collar crooks by all but one of the 12 government departments that a Trump appointee headed during the majority of 2017. Most of the agencies have cut in half the amount of money corporations are forced to pay for violations. The fines have plunged 94 percent at the Environmental Protection Agency and 90 percent at the Justice Department.
A second recent study, by Syracuse University, found that the Justice Department is filing charges against far fewer corporate criminals than at any time in two decades.
This has happened because the president put billionaires, corporate cronies and right-wingers in charge of the federal bureaucracy. Many of the officials are long-time critics of regulations limiting what corporations may do in the pursuit of profits. Some, like Trump's first chiefs of the EPA and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, formerly called for the abolition of the regulatory agencies they were chosen to run. Others, like top adviser Stephen Miller, have taken their ultraconservative ideologies to the White House.
Progressive Democrats are not mincing words in their condemnation of the extremist, pro-corporate policies. But most congressional Republicans are not speaking out, because of their own links to Big Business and Trump's continued popularity with the party's base.
The president has demonstrated his fondness for the corporate class by inviting three times as many CEOs and other billionaires to the White House than Barack Obama hosted — and he been in office for less than two years. This should not come as a surprise, considering that Trump is also a billionaire businessman. He was just surrounding himself with the types of people he understands when he picked fat cats like Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for his cabinet. His closest advisers include the fabulously wealthy Carl Icahn and Sheldon Adelson.
Rather than holding the rich and their corporations accountable for crimes, Trump rewarded them with more than a trillion dollars in tax cuts that the compliant Republican-led Congress eagerly approved. The result has been a widening of the gap between the rich and the poor, which was already one of the worst wealth disparities in the world. Taxpayer money now flowing to the rich is unavailable for meeting the needs of the poor.
The administration has shielded corporations from prosecution for bribery, and slashed in half the fines for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Businesses that played a role in causing the financial crisis of the late 1990s have gotten a pass, due to the reduction of penalties for securities fraud and other violations. Another boon to large corporations has been the administration's gutting of regulations governing air emissions, water pollution and food quality.
The Justice Department under Trump has less power to prosecute businesses that defraud the government or make false claims. The new policy was the brainchild of former Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, who previously worked for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. She is now a Walmart executive.
Robert Bork, the conservative judge whose Supreme Court nomination the Senate rejected in the 1980s, wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Examiner: “With the advent of a new administration, DOJ has embraced a spirit in which compliance is becoming more of a cooperative venture with the private sector, reserving hard-nosed prosecutions for actual wrongdoers. This new spirit can be seen in many actions.”
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has assured business leaders that they can avoid prosecution by cooperating with Justice Department officials. In May, he explained the administration's priorities by telling a corporate audience: “We are aggressively pursuing the crimes that pose imminent danger to the American people. They include terrorism, gang violence, drug trafficking, child exploitation, elder abuse and human smuggling.” Rosenstein argued that penalties the government imposes on corporations “do not necessarily directly deter individual wrongdoers.”
Salon concluded: “Whether or not they’re willing to admit it, the message from the Trump-Sessions Justice Department is clear. If you look like the president, or if your crimes were committed in the pursuit of profit, they might cut you a deal. But if you’re an undocumented immigrant, Trump and Sessions have made it clear what you can expect — zero tolerance.”