Former DOJ Lawyer On Prosecuting Corporate Crime Under Trump
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
A lawyer at the Department of Justice has resigned. She says she can no longer work for this administration. And she is not leaving quietly. Hui Chen is her name, and she was a consultant working in the DOJ's fraud department. Her division prosecutes white-collar crimes, many of which are corporate cases. A couple weeks ago, she posted on social media that, quote, "trying to hold companies to standards that our current administration is not living up to was creating a cognitive dissonance that I could not overcome," end quote.
HUI CHEN: The reason I left was because the job I signed up for became more difficult because the administration that I worked under is not acting in ways that the DOJ expects the companies to do.
MARTIN: So you're essentially alleging that the administration isn't being held to the same standards as the corporations that you were investigating for corruption or fraud?
CHEN: So let me explain that there are numerous lawsuits out there, many of which touch on this. But let me just cite a couple of areas. So if you have a CEO, for example, who's got substantial interests in the business partners of the company. And yet be in a position to continue to do business with these partners and actually negotiate terms with these partners - that in itself creates a conflict. Trump's business interests in foreign countries is an example of - similar to this type of conflict interest. How does that influence his foreign policy and how he deals with the countries in which he has business interests? That's one area.
MARTIN: Although the president himself points out frequently that he is not subject to conflict of interest laws, unlike Congress - the president is exempted to some degree, and he's right.
CHEN: I agree. And I think one of things I had said very, very frequently as a compliance professional is, my concern, as a compliance professional, is whether what is happening potentially could hurt the company. And I'm less concerned with the legality of something. A lot of times a company or a person can do something that is perfectly legal yet not ethical.
MARTIN: Was there a specific moment or incident that led you to make this choice?
CHEN: It's something that I had begun to contemplate as I watched the new administration begin to take some of the actions. But I think what really culminated into a moment that clarified everything for me was the termination of James Comey, the former FBI director. I will say - and that was a moment that was very clear to me (laughter) - that had a company come in to the fraud section to tell a story that we have a CEO who was implicated, potentially, in an internal investigation and we have an investigator who had been told by the CEO to let it go - and when he didn't, he was fired, that story would raise serious questions in our minds, sitting across the table from the companies in the fraud section, about the company's compliance program. One of the key factors that we almost always ask is, how do you ensure that your internal investigations are independent?
MARTIN: So could you have stayed? I mean, it's my understanding your job was actually set to expire in September, your consultancy.
CHEN: I was offered an option to renew.
MARTIN: And so you turned that down.
CHEN: I turned that down, and then I left early.
MARTIN: That's Hui Chen. We spoke to her over Skype. And we should say we reached out to the Department of Justice. They responded and said they decline to comment. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.