“The failures of credit rating agencies were essential cogs in the wheel of financial destruction," the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission wrote in its final report, in 2011. “This crisis could not have happened without the rating agencies.”
S&P has acknowledged that its ratings were wrong, but insists it did not knowingly issue triple-A ratings to junk securities at a time when few on Wall Street or in the government saw the dangers posed by subprime lending. The DOJ suit "would be entirely without factual or legal merit," said S&P, in a statement.
"Regrettably, the breadth, depth, and effect of what ultimately occurred were greater than we – and virtually everyone else – predicted," the statement said.
And because it alone was singled out among other rating agencies that awarded sterling ratings to mortgage-backed securities, including Moody’s Corp. and Fitch Ratings, S&P has suggested the DOJ is retaliating for S&P’s downgrade of the US credit rating in 2011.
Nonetheless, the suit marks an aggressive new tack by the federal government.