Preet Bharara, the former federal prosecutor who got sacked after refusing to take President Trump’s call, said Friday he hopes and prays Rudy Giuliani has not “crossed the line” into criminal conduct, as news reports suggest.
But if he still were U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Bharara said he would have no qualms about investigating the president’s personal lawyer, who also was U.S. Attorney before serving as mayor of New York.
“If there’s evidence of a crime, it doesn’t matter who the hell you are,” Bharara told the packed Mayo Performing Arts Center, where he was keynote speaker for the sixth annual Morristown Festival of Books.
“That’s the point of being independent. There’s a reason I didn’t call the president back — because you can’t have your independence compromised.”
The Festival continues on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, from 10 am to noon, with free talks by more than 50 authors at several South Street venues.
Bharara, 50, is the author of Doing Justice, A Prosecutor’s Thoughts on Crime Punishment and the Rule of Law. He served as U.S. Attorney from 2009 until March of 2017, when he was fired after shunning a request to resign.
In a free-wheeling and often humorous 75-minute conversation moderated by MSNBC anchor Katy Tur, Bharara discussed his dismissal, the Trump impeachment inquiry, Attorney General William Barr and Giuliani, a onetime mentor.
Giuliani reportedly is under investigation, by the same federal office that he and Bharara have led, regarding business ties to two Florida men who have helped him look for dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.
Authorities arrested the men, natives of the former Soviet Union, on charges of campaign finance violations as they attempted to depart this week from a Washington airport with one-way tickets. They are on the witness list for the Trump impeachment inquiry.
Giuliani has declined to comment on the case, according to ABC News.
Bharara sought Giuliani’s advice when he became U.S. Attorney, and found his predecessor to be a gracious person with “great affection and love for the Southern District of New York.
“My worry is, he doesn’t seem to have the same love and affection for the rule of law,” Bharara said, noting he is baffled by Giuliani’s behavior and has lost respect for him.
“It’s sad to see. He refers to his former law enforcement partners, the ones who actually put their lives on the line to bring people to justice, and to arrest them, and he casually refers to them as stormtroopers,” Bharara said.
Giuliani made the comment last year after FBI raids gathered evidence against former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, now serving a three-year jail term for campaign violations, financial fraud and lying to a Senate committee.
The ex-mayor, meanwhile, is “gallivanting around the world and meeting with foreign leaders and conducting independent foreign policy,” and giving bizarre TV interviews — including one where he denied asking anyone to look into Biden, and “30 second later, he tells (CNN’s) Chris Cuomo, ‘you’re damned right I did!'”
Today, Bharara is a CNN analyst, scholar-in-residence at the NYU School of Law, and host of two podcasts.
The son of Indian immigrants, he grew up in Eatontown and earned degrees from Harvard and Columbia Law School. He was chief counsel to Sen. Chuck Schumer before his appointment as U.S. Attorney, where he oversaw more than 200 lawyers who prosecuted terrorists, gangs, mobsters, cyber criminals, financial fraudsters and corrupt officials.
His staff’s work was “incredibly inspiring,” Bharara said.
Nudged by Tur, he contrasted Attorney General Barr with FBI Director Christopher Wray, who strives to do “the right things the right way for the right reasons.”
“I thought that Bill Barr was that kind of person. I no longer think that,” Bharara said.
He cited reports about Barr traveling abroad to ask foreign governments for help investigating origins of the Robert Mueller probe into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
“Trying to get other countries to cooperate with an investigation of the investigators…might not seem weird to a layperson,” Bharara said. “But in my experience it’s an extraordinary thing for the person who was the head of a 110,000-person law enforcement agency to be doing that kind of thing personally.”
As President-elect in 2016, Trump invited Bharara to the 26th floor of Trump Tower and asked him to continue as U.S. Attorney. During the meeting, Trump asked for Bharara’s phone number.
“It doesn’t seem so weird now. He also clearly asked for the president of Ukraine’s digits, Putin’s digits, (Turkish President) Erdogan’s. He clearly likes to talk to people,” Bharara said, to laughter.
When Trump called him a few months later as president, however, Bharara was dead serious. Any conversation would have been inappropriate; he had jurisdiction over investigations of Trump’s organization, hotels and charity foundation.
“And 20 hours later I was asked to resign. Then I refused to resign for a day. And it took them a day-and-a-half to get their act together and understand how to fire me. Which I thought was odd, given that used to be the president’s job, saying ‘You’re fired,'” Bharara said, to more laughs, in a reference to Trump’s TV show The Apprentice.
Amidst allegations that Trump pressured Ukraine’s President Zelensky to help smear Biden, Tur asked Bharara how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi should proceed with impeachment.
Carefully, Bharara suggested.
“If you want the nation to heal afterwards, you’ve got to have some support of Republicans,” he said.
Does such advice hint of political aspirations, Tur wondered?
“I have no intention of joining politics, in the same way I have no intention of joining the circus,” Bharara answered, hastening to add: “I mean no disrespect to the circus.