Elizabeth Warren's Aggressive Questioning Prompts Anger From Wall Street

02/15/2013 12:11 pm ET | Updated Feb 15, 2013

Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-Mass.) meeting with bank regulators Thursday left bankers reeling, after she questioned why regulators had not prosecuted a bank since the financial crisis.

At one point, Warren asked why the book value of big banks was lower, when most corporations trade above book value, saying there could be only two reasons for it.

"One would be because nobody believes that the banks' books are honest," she said. "Second, would be that nobody believes that the banks are really manageable. That is, if they are too complex either for their own institutions to manage them or for the regulators to manage them."

That set off angry responses to Politico's Morning Money. "While Senator Warren had every right to ask pointed questions at today's Senate Banking Committee hearing, her claim that 'nobody believes' that bank books are honest is just plain wrong," a "top executive" emailed the financial newsletter. "Perhaps someone ought to remind the Senator that the campaign is over and she should act accordingly if she wants to be taken seriously."

The anonymous emailer said Warren was being as "extreme" as fellow freshman Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who asserted Tuesday without evidence that secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel may have received money from "extreme or radical" groups.

In another email, a GOP bank lobbyist said, "Republicans also would like to know why the Democratic donor base has avoided trial. Maybe she should subpoena the DSCC and Obama's super PAC to answer her question."

Consumer Bankers Association CEO Richard Hunt was slightly more diplomatic. "We have been through more tests and thorough exams than any college student over the past four years, including many conducted by the CFPB. The results of the Hamilton Partners Financial Index and the testimony of OCC Comptroller [Thomas] Curry were very clear: the United States banking system is safe and sound, supported by historic and permanent capital ratios. We are working every day to fulfill the financial needs of the American consumer and small business and will continue to work with any and all lawmakers who seek to assist in this extremely important process."

Bankers and other members of the finance community have opposed Warren as she rose from being a Harvard University law school professor to a Massachusetts senator. They opposed her permanent nomination to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which she created. After Senate Republicans said that they would filibuster her nomination, she ran for Senate in Massachusetts. Wall Street donated heavily to her opponent, former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), but she won the seat. Warren became a member of the Senate Banking Committee, despite further heavy opposition from banking lobbyists.

During the hearing, Warren asked why ordinary people often faced prosecution while banks do not.

"You know, I just want to note on this. There are district attorneys and U.S. attorneys who are out there every day squeezing ordinary citizens on sometimes very thin grounds. And taking them to trial in order to make an example, as they put it. I'm really concerned that too big to fail has become too big for trial," she said. "That just seems wrong to me."

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story referred to Consumer Bankers Association CEO Richard Hunt by the wrong title. We regret the error.

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