Preet Bharara was U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York until he was fired by President Trump in 2017. His new book, Doing Justice: A Prosecutor’s Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law, hitting shelves Tuesday, explores the justice system through his experiences.
In an interview with NPR, Bharara said that while our system has flaws, he supports it. He also talked about how executives have been able to avoid criminal prosecution, how he became a symbol through social media in Turkey, and Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Bharara said people should be prepared for the possibility Mueller may find no criminal activity by the president that he feels he can prove without a reasonable doubt — and that “if that is the conclusion of Robert Mueller, I’ll say, so be it.”
Following are some highlights from the interview.
On how top-level Wall Street executives were able to avoid prosecution for events triggering the Great Recession
The person at the top often has plausible deniability. You know, I didn’t tell you to defraud anybody. There were also many occasions on which a financial institution would ask for the legal advice or accounting advice of a third party and they would say, hey, will you bless this. And in some cases, you know, maybe it was sketchy to bless something … it has been recognized throughout our system that if some third party, independent third party, says yeah we’re the experts, we’re the professionals, you can do this thing, you can make this disclosure and it’s efficient — you’re never gonna get a jury, unless they’re violating their oath as jurors, you know getting the jury to believe that the first person that relied on the advice had the intent to commit a crime. And that’s true by the way for ordinary people who may have tax returns that they file and they say they relied on their accountant. And some people who say they relied on their accountant commit fraud and take deductions that they shouldn’t.
On his time as U.S. attorney (not in the aired audio story)
In retrospect, it seems to have gone very quickly. There were moments where it seemed to go very slowly. I have a chapter in the book where I talk about the verdict and what it’s like, because I want people to feel what it was like to be in the office and to do the work even though I think it’s, they’re universal lessons and applicable to everyone, you know, I say that the wait for a jury verdict is one of the most painful things you can do. Obviously, the most painful for the person who’s on trial, but painful and difficult for the prosecutor too — and one of the biggest cases we brought against [hedge fund manager and founder of Galleon Group] Raj Rajaratnam for insider trading, the jury was out 11 days. So those 11 days felt like seven years. But the overall seven and a half years, it’s like your kids growing up — it flies by.
On criticism he’s gotten
I got a lot of criticism, sometimes for being too soft, sometimes for being too harsh. I’m banned from Russia by Vladimir Putin because we successfully prosecuted an international arms dealer named Viktor Bout. I was personally attacked by President Erdogan of Turkey because we prosecuted somebody that, you know, he had connections to in an indirect way.
On prosecuting gold trader Reza Zarrab and causing a political uproar
Reza Zarrab was a gold trader, Iranian, but also from Turkey, who was being prosecuted along with other folks in Turkey for various, you know, elements of misconduct and those cases were made to go away because he was politically connected to two people who were close to [Turkey President] Erdogan … he exercised his power in a country that doesn’t have the same constitutional protections that America has. He relieved judges of their duty. He removed prosecutors from office. He shut down media outlets. And the case went away — literally the case was made to go away … So Zarrab shows up in Florida. He’s under arrest. It becomes an overnight sensation in Turkey, because you know, much of secular Turkey saw this as an example of American justice that can survive and work and prevail, even when Turkish justice would not.
On Special Counsel Robert Mueller
People should have a lot of faith in Robert Mueller. I have a ton of faith in Robert Mueller. I think, you know, he is not a deity and he should not be put on a pedestal, but there’s no one I can think of in the country who could have done this job as honorably as he’s doing — and even he has been attacked and dragged through the mud, and false accusations made about him. What I’m saying is he’s just a law man acting by the book, trying to do what he thinks is correct with a band of really, really smart, I think, honorable people around him. But if people think that America will be healed or America will be better or these dangers to democracy will be fixed if Bob Mueller recites chapter and verse a lot of misconduct on the part of the president, then they’re mistaken because even if he does that, he goes to the Congress and Congress has been fairly supine.