Holder: No bank is 'too big to jail'

Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday he is personally overseeing investigations into major banks, and is working with regulators as those probes enter a “key” stage.

The Obama administration’s top attorney emphasized that no institution or individual is powerful or influential enough to escape capture, and that the notion of “too big to jail” is a myth.

“There is no such thing as ‘too big to jail,’” he said in a video message posted on the Justice Department’s website. “To be clear, no individual or company, no matter how large or how profitable, is above the law.”

Last year, Holder made comments during a congressional hearing that suggested that large financial institutions were difficult to prosecute because their size posed economic risks if they were harshly penalized.

But Holder said in his new message that his team is working closely with financial regulators to mitigate those potential risks, clearing the way for criminal charges if the case can be made.

Several large financial institutions have entered into civil settlements to address charges of bad behavior stemming from the financial crisis, but no major institutions or individuals have faced criminal charges for their action. Critics of the financial sector have long been critical of the Obama administration for that fact, and have pressed for some to be held responsible.

Holder said Monday that there are times when an institution’s behavior was wrong, but not necessarily illegal – a message that has been aired in the past by top Obama aides, like former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

Furthermore, sometimes it can appear that a bank broke the law, but is not backed by evidence permissible in court.

Nonetheless, Holder underlined that when banks do break the law, his department will not hesitate to bring forward the case. On that front, he said the Justice Department has made “great strides” in coordinating with financial regulators to address potential economic risks from criminal charges, including the revocation of a bank’s charter to do business in the United States.

So long as government watchdogs do the legwork to ensure the economy would not be harmed by punishing a major bank, Holder said it is “fully possible” to file criminal charges against them.

Holder did not name any specific institutions under scrutiny, but said he was personally monitoring the progress on several cases.

“I am resolved to seeing them through, and in doing so, I intend to reaffirm the principle that no individual or entity that does harm to our economy is ever above the law,” he said.

The Justice Department is reportedly examining BNP Paribas for evading U.S. sanctions, and Credit Suisse for helping Americans evade taxes.