As one of the longest-serving leaders of the U.S. Justice Department's Criminal Division, Lanny Breuer has overseen some of the highest-profile cases in the country's history. On March 1, after nearly four years at the helm, Breuer is planning to leave his post.
Breuer, the assistant attorney general of the Criminal Division, said in an interview on Jan. 29 that he hasn't yet settled on his next steps. Talk of Breuer's departure from one of DOJ's most coveted slots has been ongoing in Washington legal circles for a couple of months now.
"I will miss my colleagues. There's no job like it," said Breuer, a former Covington & Burling white-collar defense partner in Washington. "I'm sure I will love the private practice againor whatever it is in the private sector. But this is as great a job as you get."
Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. said in a statement that Breuer has led one of the "most successful and aggressive" Criminal Divisions in the department's history. Holder touted the nationwide fight against health care and financial fraud, among other areas, as highlights of Breuer's leadership since early 2009.
"Throughout his tenure, Lanny has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to the mission of this Department and I want to thank him for his dedication and exceptional service," Holder said in the statement.
Under Breuer, the department secured a record-setting $4 billion in fines and penalties from BP for its role in the Gulf of Mexico oil disastera deal a judge in New Orleans this week approved. Enforcement of anti-foreign bribery laws surged. Major banks turned over billions of dollars to the government through deferred prosecution agreements over violations of anti-money laundering provisions. In one recent case, in December, HSBC Holdings plc agreed to a record $1.25 billion forfeiture agreement with DOJ.
But HSBC and other banks weren't indicted, Breuer's critics have charged, creating the impression that the Criminal Division has given a pass to large financial institutions for flagrant criminal violations. On the financial fraud front, the PBS program Frontline recently questioned the lack of charges against top Wall Street executives for their roles in the financial crisis.
And Republican leaders on Capitol Hill have accused Breuer of leadership shortcomings amid the tumult over Operation Fast and Furious, the flawed gun trafficking sting along the southwest border. Representative Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said last week Breuer's resignation is "long overdue."
"I think Washington can be a divisive town," Breuer said. "I recognize that in a job like this you're going to receive praise and you're going to receive criticism. Sometimes you may get praise that you don't deserve. Sometimes you may get criticism you don't deserve."
The controversy over Fast and Furious has persisted for more than two years. Republicans in Congress have clamored over whether DOJ officials intentionally misled congressional investigators who were looking into who knew what, and when, about the flawed gun program, which has been implicated in the death of a border patrol agent. In the sting, federal agents allowed firearms to flow into Mexico with the intent to build cases against the leaders of gun trafficking organizations.