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Is the Department of Justice Preparing to Go Easier on Corporate Crime?

September 15, 2017, 11:25 AM UTC

In a speech at the Heritage Foundation on Thursday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said the U.S. Justice Department (DoJ) is reviewing its policies on prosecuting white-collar crime. He indicated that “there may be some changes to the policy on corporate prosecutions,” but did not specify what kind of change the department was considering.

Rosenstein’s comments at the Heritage Foundation and previous statements from Attorney General Jeff Sessions indicate a continued effort to punish individuals for their role in corporate crimes. However, they may take a softer approach than that outlined in the Yates Memo, which instructs prosecutors to “identify culpable individuals at all levels in corporate cases” and to withhold cooperation credit unless a company provides “all relevant facts” about the individuals in question.

The Yates Memo, a 2015 directive from then Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, advocated a focus on prosecuting individuals. The memo came in response to the government’s failure to hold individuals accountable for their roles in the financial crisis of 2007-2009. Several of Yates’s predecessors also published statements intended to help prosecutors determine whether to punish companies or individuals.

In practice, these statements don’t always have real-world impact. As the Financial Times reports, it can be difficult to attribute responsibility for the actions of large corporate entities to one individual.