There it was again in the S.E.C.'s announcement on Wednesday that Citigroup had agreed to pay $285 million to settle a civil complaint that it had defrauded investors in a mortgage securities deal. The bank did so "without admitting or denying" the government's accusations. "But the S.E.C.'s longstanding policy of using this phrase in its settlements is likely to come under scrutiny by the federal judge who must approve the Citigroup settlement -- and it could, legal experts say, cause the deal to come undone."

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