Who’s Afraid of the DOJ?

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I was very much looking forward to hearing Lanny Breuer, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, U.S. Department of Justice, speak this morning at the Dow Jones Global Compliance Symposium. In prior speeches, he had offered fresh data and future direction for DOJ investigations. I had always found this information to be elucidating for training and actionable for compliance.

Unfortunately, this morning was a high-level interview. Breuer spoke in broad brushstrokes about being an “equal-opportunity prosecutor” and “outlawing corruption worldwide” since 50% of companies the DOJ pursued last year were foreign companies. Essentially, we are exporting our best practices in fighting fraud and unethical behavior. Great news to level the competitive playing field worldwide, but not particularly actionable.

However, the single, most compelling moment was when the interviewer asked for a show of hands of who thought that the DOJ was wielding too much authority–no hands went up. 100 people glanced around the room. Then, a repeat lack-of-hands response for the “appropriate amount of authority?” Then, nervous laughter all around.

Yesterday, the show-of-hands polls had prompted enthusiastic response from this audience–even with still and video cameras rolling and surrounded by a bevy of Dow Jones’ reporters furiously typing notes into their computers. In fact, 100% voted yesterday that government was overstepping their bounds.

What changed? As a former engineer, the only new variable I ascertained was the presence of Lanny Breuer. With so much discussion about fostering openness and question-asking as a crucial component of compliance, clearly this mantra does not extend to the DOJ.

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