The title sort of grabbed me and since I thought I knew why corporate executives have not been prosecuted for the financial crisis of 2008 I decided to see what Mr. Eisinger had to say. It turns out I was at least partially wrong and that the problem is much more complex and more troubling than I had thought.
The title comes from a speech given by James Comey before he became the (now fired) FBI director, to an elite group of prosecutors. These were the best and brightest the finest institutions in the country had to offer, and Comey asked the question, how many of you have never had an acquittal or a hung jury? Those who raised their hands, he explained were members of the club. The dubious distinction meant that they had never taken on a case where there was any likelihood they would lose.
As I read the book I realized just how much the Chickenshit Club mentality has pervaded not just the Justice department, which Eisinger does an excellent job of detailing, but a lot of American business and even the culture. I can’t count the times that people who should’ve done something or tried to do something have sat on their hands for fear of losing or pissing off people who could pretty much ruin their financial lives. I have done it myself to some extent. But the results of my membership in the club reach only as far as my immediate family. For the Justice Department, the consequences affect the vast majority, if not everyone, in the nation, and sometimes beyond. As is pointed out in the book , many of the prosecutors who had won convictions against executives prior to the 2008 crisis (think Enron) had ended their careers in small, out of the way places. What becomes apparent is that the people who are supposed to be prosecuting executives either came from firms who represent the very companies they have to go up against, or plan on working there after their stint in government is over. People who do anything to cause harm to individuals of high-profile companies can consider their careers on the decline or quickly over.
The book is a fascinating read and you will surely recognize a lot of names; Kenneth Lay, Skilling, Comey, Goldman Sachs, AIG, they’re all here. A lot of research went into the writing and it’s very well done. I rarely read non-fiction but this one is well worth the time.