The Ethics & Compliance Initiative has lined up Attorney General Jeff Sessions to speak at its annual conference next month. It will be one of the first times Sessions speaks at length about corporate misconduct and the compliance function’s role in preventing it.
Landing a sitting attorney general to speak at a compliance conference is no easy feat. In the nearly 15 years I’ve been writing about compliance or planning compliance conferences myself, I’ve never seen it happen. I’m sure the ECI secured Sessions thanks in no small part to Larry Thompson, chairman of the ECI’s parent organization and a former deputy attorney general who knows Thompson well.
Regardless, a round of applause to ECI today for such an impressive conference circuit coup.
Sessions will speak on the afternoon of Monday, April 24. Immediately after his remarks will follow another session probably even more relevant to corporate compliance officers: a panel discussion among five former deputy attorneys general spanning three presidential administrations.
As much as we all love to hang on every word of a sitting attorney general, the real action for compliance officers usually happens with the deputy AGs. They play a much greater role in setting policy and making decisions about when to charge companies with misconduct. And throughout the years, deputy AGs have been the ones who issue memos to federal prosecutors across the country about how to handle companies, including how to evaluate corporate compliance programs.
And don’t forget, the ECI conference has a full agenda beyond Sessions and the deputies. I’ll be there and look forward to hearing what’s being said.
Now, does Sessions also bring controversy? You bet. Plenty of people believe that during his Senate confirmation hearings, he lied under oath about his dealings with Russia. And if I were a black person trying to vote or a transgender person trying to use a public bathroom, Sessions isn’t someone I’d trust to defend my rights. He comes across to tens of millions of Americans as a man with narrow-minded views. Squaring those narrow-minded views with the inclusive culture Corporate America claims it wants to have—that’s tough.
(We should note that one defender of Sessions is Larry Thompson, an African-American, who says Sessions is not racist in the least. Pat Harned, director of the ECI, also had a thoughtful post today explaining her logic for inviting Sessions.)
Still, strictly on the issue of prosecuting people and corporations that commit misconduct, Sessions is someone the compliance community can work with. When you look further down the Justice Department chain of command, to people like Rod Rosenstein (nominated to be Sessions’ deputy AG) or Trevor McFadden (deputy assistant AG who will oversee corruption cases)—they are people the compliance community definitely can work with.
On that lower, nuts-and-bolts level of investigating and prosecuting companies, the Trump Administration probably will feel much more like the Bush Administration; rather than the clown car crazy show we see around President Fredo Corleone himself. So kudos to the ECI for pulling together all these Justice Department perspectives, and I for one look forward to hearing them.