Elizabeth Warren Takes a Victory Lap

The senator talks to Ben Jacobs about her efforts that have led to JPMorgan’s expected admission of guilt.

Cliff Owen/AP

In a historic move, JPMorgan is expected to admit wrongdoing—in addition to paying an $800 million fine—as part of its settlement with the federal government over the 2012 London Whale trading scandal. And one woman may be partly responsible for this turn of events: Elizabeth Warren.

Speaking to The Daily Beast on the fifth anniversary of the financial crisis, Warren explains that this development followed a recent change in SEC policy that seeks admissions of guilt more often, which was spurred by the Massachusetts senator’s efforts. In the past, the SEC has invariably settled cases requiring companies to pay fines “without admitting or denying” wrongdoing.

Warren told The Daily Beast that the change in policy was connected to her efforts to push SEC chair Mary Jo White on the issue. “We sent a letter to the SEC and others,” said Warren, “asking them if they’ve done cost-benefit analysis on [the] impact of accepting 'neither admit nor deny' settlements. Mary Jo White responded by saying that she was going to look into it—and then [the SEC] announced soon after that change in policy—and [that] she was going to insist on admissions of guilt in more cases.” In the past, as Warren noted, the financial regulator "didn’t require admission of guilt ever.”

The Massachusetts senator didn’t try to hog the credit. Warren thought that White, who was appointed by President Obama in April 2013, “moved the SEC on this issue in an important way." In fact, she went out of her way to praise the SEC chair for “doing a wonderful job.”

Warren thinks that lobbying efforts like this are an important part of her job as a senator, particularly in the current political climate. It is essential for legislators to be “pushing on the regulators” by writing them and making sure that they “enforce their regulations.”

Despite the tough new stance of the SEC, Warren isn’t satisfied with what has been accomplished in the five years since the collapse of Lehman Brothers triggered the financial crisis. Although she maintains that the Dodd-Frank bill was “very important” and that “I would have voted for it,” she feels not enough has been done to prevent consolidation in the banking industry and the rise of “too big to fail” financial institutions that are “putting the whole country at risk.”

Warren bemoaned the fact that the regulators responsible for implementing the thousands of rules required by Dodd-Frank have missed over 60 percent of their deadlines. She mocked those whom she finds overly patient with this process, who take an attitude that she describes as “we haven’t gotten rid of the too-big-to-fail problem, but let’s wait until regulators get those rules in place.” To Warren, “That’s not oversight.” Instead, Congress needs to be far more proactive.

As one example, Warren describes her work to try to pass the 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act, which would restore the New Deal–era banking regulations repealed in the late 1990s. She raves about her co-sponsor on the bill, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), saying “if you’re going to go fight for something, you can’t ask for a better partner.” Passing this legislation in a fractured Senate and Republican-controlled House is likely to be an uphill battle, but one can never count out a first-year senator who already seems to have achieved one big win over JPMorgan.