There’s the federal criminal investigation into Wells Fargo’s opening of unauthorized client accounts.
And the probe of Fox News’s business practices.
And the investigation of Baxter International, Pfizer and ICU Medical over their medical pricing and dealings with competitors.
For investors and others with an interest in such companies, President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey has added a new layer of uncertainty to the government’s corporate criminal investigations. What might an FBI without a permanent leader, even for a short time, mean for ongoing cases of corporate misconduct?
Comey’s dismissal comes just as questions have already been raised about whether corporate crime will be a priority for the Justice Department in the Trump administration.
The FBI partners with the network of federal prosecutors around the country who report to the Justice Department leadership in Washington. Agents collect evidence and interview witnesses, laying the groundwork that the U.S. attorneys use to prosecute cases. With complicated corporate cases, that process can take many months.
Doubts have already been swirling around whether local U.S. attorneys’ offices will involve themselves aggressively in such cases. Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, in March asked 46 U.S. attorneys around the country who served under President Barack Obama to step down. That total represents half of all the U.S. attorneys. None of their proposed replacements has yet been confirmed by the Senate.
While it’s customary for a new president to replace nearly all the U.S. attorneys, it often occurs more incrementally.
In the aftermath of Comey’s firing, some experts foresee delays in the FBI’s pursuit of corporate cases.
“What we’re seeing right now is chaos,” says Jimmy Gurule, a law professor at Notre Dame who was an assistant U.S. attorney general in the George H.W. Bush administration. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of these investigations disrupted. Who benefits? It’s only the defendants.”
The FBI director sets the agenda and orders priorities for the agency, thereby determining how its roughly $9 billion annual budget is spent.
“It’s critically important that there be a full-time director named to lead the FBI,” says Robert Mintz, a former assistant U.S. attorney now in private law practice at McCarter & English in New Jersey.
Here are some of the business cases recently under FBI and Justice Department investigation that could be affected. Several were begun under the Obama administration. Federal criminal probes don’t necessarily result in charges. None of the companies or their executives has been charged.
Wells Fargo & Co.
Investigators have been looking into the actions taken by bank employees to open up to 2 million unauthorized accounts in a drive to meet punishing sales quotas. The scandal erupted in September at the third-largest U.S. bank, triggering the resignation of its CEO, emotional hearings in…