If Las Vegas took bets on whether recently departed Attorney General Eric Holder would return to corporate law firm Covington & Burling, the casinos would have run out of money faster than Greek banks. Newborn infants could have guessed at a homecoming for the former partner at Covington from 2001 to 2009. Last year, Holder bought a condo 300 feet from the firm’s headquarters. The National Law Journal headlined the news, “Holder’s Return to Covington Was Six Years in the Making,” as if acting as the nation’s top law enforcement officer was a temp gig. They even kept an 11th-floor corner office empty for his return.
If we had a more aggressive media, this would be an enormous scandal, more than the decamping of former Obama Administration officials to places like Uber and Amazon. That’s because practically no law firm has done more to protect Wall Street executives from the consequences of their criminal activities than Covington & Burling. Their roster of clients includes every mega-bank in America: JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Bank of America. Yet Holder has joined several of his ex-employees there, creating a shadow Justice Department and an unquestionable conflict of interest. In fact, given the pathetic fashion in which DoJ limited punishment for those who caused the greatest economic meltdown in 80 years, Holder’s new job looks a lot like his old job.
You could actually make a plausible argument that Covington & Burling bears responsibility for the Great Recession: In the late 1990s, Covington lawyers drafted the legal justification for MERS, the private electronic database that facilitated mortgage-backed securities trading. MERS saved banks from having to submit documents and fees with county land recording offices each time they transferred mortgages. So it’s unlikely you would have seen mortgage securitization at such a high volume without MERS, and by proxy, without those legal opinions. Of course, securitization drove subprime lending, the housing bubble, its eventual crash and the financial meltdown that followed. Though evidence pointed to MERS’ implication in the mass document fraud scandal that infected the foreclosure process, former Covington lawyer Holder never prosecuted them, and now he’s back with the old team.
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