Holder: Big banks' size complicates prosecution efforts

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He suggested that prior attempts to bring enforcement against banks may have been stifled by their outsize influence, saying it has an "inhibiting influence ... on our ability to bring resolutions that I think would be more appropriate."

The Justice Department is required to consider the economic impact of its actions, but Holder's comments should bolster an increasingly vocal group of lawmakers that argue the nation's biggest banks have gotten too large and need to be curbed.

Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) pressed Holder on the issue in a letter sent in February, airing their disappointment that no major criminal charges had been filed against banks or their employees in the wake of the financial crisis. And Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) drew headlines when she blasted financial regulators during a separate hearing for failing to bring any major financial institutions to trial since the meltdown.

Grassley pressed Holder again on the issue during testimony Wednesday, at which point Holder said he essentially agreed.

"The concern that you have raised is one that I, frankly, share," he said, adding that ultimately the best deterrent would be if they could bring charges against individuals instead of companies.

However, he also added that all of the bad behavior on Wall Street leading up to the crisis may not necessarily have been criminal and that his criminal team has been "as aggressive as they could be."

Holder touted the Justice Department's efforts on financial fraud, specifically noting the government's civil suit against the credit rating agency Standard & Poor's, in which the government is seeking at least $5 billion in damages. The rater has said the lawsuit is without merit and is challenging it.