In January, President Obama announced during the State of the Union speech the creation of a new financial crimes task force to investigate the crimes and misdeeds that led to the economic collapse and "hold accountable those who broke the law."
The task force was considered a win. For months activists had been demanding a full investigation into wrongdoing by the big banks that led to the mortgage crisis. Perhaps most importantly, strong investigations could lead to additional settlements for the millions of underwater homeowners that need immediate help.
It could still be a "win," but only if the investigations are vigorous, swift and given every available resource they need to succeed. Right now that's not happening.
At present, despite the enormity and complexity of the issue; the direct impact on millions of Americans; the real possibility to achieve additional aid to homeowners; and the widespread nature of crimes and wrongdoing, the new Financial Crimes Unit has only been allocated a paltry 55 staff members to undertake this enormous task.
Even worse, we're hearing from insiders in Washington, D.C., that the full complement of 55 promised investigators -- which is already not nearly enough -- haven't even been deployed to the task force.
That's why this week my organization, CREDO Action, is reaching out to our networks online to insist that President Obama prove his commitment to the Financial Crimes Task Force, and provide the task force with the resources it needs to investigate Wall Street criminals.
Election year promises aren't nearly enough. We need to tell the president loud and clear: 55 investigators are not enough. We need 20 times more staffing to get this job done.
Twenty times more staffing may sound like a lot. But after the much smaller savings and loan scandal of the '80s, approximately 1,000 FBI agents and dozens of federal prosecutors were assigned to prosecute related cases. And 100 FBI agents were tasked with investigating the Enron scandal, which involved just one company and caused none of the economy-wide damage we've seen since the collapse of the housing bubble.
Clearly, 55 investigators is woefully inadequate. And to find out that President Obama hasn't delivered on those investigators, let alone resourced the effort at the levels appropriate to the biggest financial fraud in U.S. history, is shocking.
President Obama's record on Wall Street accountability is abysmal. But because of enormous grassroots pressure from activists like you and polling that suggests he needs to take on Wall Street as a part of his election campaign, we have a real opportunity to move President Obama to meaningful action on Wall Street accountability. Time, however, is running out.
President Obama's first task force at the Department of Justice did little if anything to prosecute Wall Street for crimes that led to the financial crisis. But because of your activism, he announced a new task force and named progressive champion and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman one of its five co-chairs.
Now we need to pressure the White House to give that task force the resources it needs to pursue justice. Without sufficient staff to conduct thorough investigations, it's hard to see how this task force could bring indictments quickly -- or even before Statutes of limitations run out.
Aside from the appointment of Attorney General Schneiderman, none of the other co-chairs of the new task force has done anything that achieves our goal of holding banks accountable or prosecuting bankers for criminal activity.
In fact, three of his co-chairs served on the earlier failed Department of Justice task force that the new investigation was created to supersede.
In an election year when we know the Obama reelection campaign wants to frame his race as opposing the candidate of the one percent, President Obama will be particularly sensitive to public perception of whether his efforts to hold Wall Street accountable are meaningful and represent the full force of his office.
President Obama needs to give the Department of Justice task force the resources required to launch a serious investigation that will bring about real accountability before the statutes of limitations run out for Wall Street's crimes.
It's been months already. We can't waste any more time. We must act now before we lose our opportunity to do anything significant at all.