Former United States Department of Justice anti-fraud expert Hui Chen explained her decision to leave her position under the Trump administration at Penn Law School on Tuesday, citing lack of ethics as her primary reason.
Chen was the DOJ's first-ever Compliance Counsel Expert, responsible for reviewing corporate ethics of companies. At the event, she discussed her career path before her departure from the DOJ.
Chen explained that her profession values the tone set at high positions of leadership.
"In compliance, they like to talk about 'tone from the top.' We have a terrible tone from the top," Chen said of the Trump administration. "We have a tone from the top that disregards the rule of law, that is openly racist, that is just the worst possible."
Chen compared the firing of former FBI Director James Comey to a hypothetical company who hired an investigator to inspect a friend of the CEO, only to have the investigator fired.
“If a company came in and told me that story, I would be very troubled, yet that happened," Chen said. "If you were treating the United States as a company, that is exactly what happened.”
Comey’s firing was the “tipping point” for Chen, CNN previously reported.
Chen said that while she was working for the DOJ, she found it “too ironic for words” to evaluate the ethics of the companies who spoke to her, presenting their various compliance policies.
“I actually could not sit there with a straight face and pretend that I have any legitimacy in rendering a judgment,” Chen said.
Co-sponsors of the event were Penn Law's branch of the American Constitutional Society and Asian Pacific American Law Students Association.
“I think it was really important for privileged Ivy League lawyers to learn about the role that they play in holding corporations and governments accountable whether through the law or through our own ethics and personal responsibility,” ACS Director of Impact Programming and second-year Penn Law student Erin Sweeney said.
Towards the end of her talk, Chen began to speak about the lack of ethics in the Trump administration.
“I think the current administration is currently leading us to a constitutional crisis,” Chen said. “I’m actually amazed every day that we are not in a nuclear war.”
Chen said that this administration's decisions will have both short and long-term effects on this country. She believes that there are some “wildly unqualified” people sitting on the Federal bench, who were appointed due to "political connections."
Chen said she is also concerned about the repercussions on education and environmental policies, which even if implemented for a couple of years can have long-term and irreversible effects.
While Chen said the current political climate is disheartening, she prefers thinking about how law can elevate ethical voices.
“Particularly as lawyers, we have a responsibility to keep raising those voices, because if we keep raising those voices then we actually form another tone, to oppose that tone from the top.”