Preet Bharara takes on ‘bully CEO’ Trump, demands Congress probe Russian role in polls

The Indian origin former prosecutor demanded a truly bipartisan investigation in US Congress on Russian interference, appointment of a new FBI director who is apolitical, and an independent and uncompromised special counsel to oversee the Russia investigation.

world Updated: May 15, 2017 20:45 IST
Preet Bharara,President Donald Trump,bullying chief executive
Former Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara. (Reuters)

Calling President Donald Trump a bullying chief executive who forgets the equal status of the legislative and judicial branches of government, Preet Bharara has demanded a truly bipartisan Congressional probe into alleged Russian meddling in US elections.

To restore faith in the rule of law, three obvious things must happen, the Indian-origin former prosecutor said: A truly bipartisan investigation in US Congress on Russian interference in the elections, appointment of a new FBI director who is apolitical, and an independent and uncompromised special counsel to oversee the investigation into Trump campaign’s Russia links.

A congressional probe “means no partisan nonsense — just a commitment to finding the facts…proving (or disproving) Russian interference in our election and anything related,” Bharara, who was ousted by Trump as US attorney for the Southern District of New York in March, wrote in an Op-ed column in Washington Post on Sunday.

Congress is “never more important than when a bullying chief executive used to his own way seems not to remember the co-equal status of the other two branches,” wrote Bharara, who described the events of the past week in the wake of the abrupt firing of James Comey as FBI director as “deja vu all over again”.

“The new FBI director must be apolitical and sensitive to the law-enforcement mission, not someone with a long record of reflexive partisanship or commentary on the very investigative issues that will come before the bureau. Unfortunately, some of the candidates paraded by cameras this past weekend reality-show style fall into that category,” said Bharara, who is currently a scholar in residence at New York University Law School.

“More than ever the FBI needs a strong and stabilising hand, which means somebody who has not spent most of his or her career pandering for votes, groveling for cash or putting party over principle.”

Given the manner of Comey’s firing and the pretextual reasons proffered for it, he said, there is no other way but to have an independent and uncompromised special counsel to oversee the Russia investigation.

Bharara said Deputy Attorney General Rod J Rosenstein “has mostly deserved the doubts he generated with his peculiar press-release-style memo purporting to explain” Comey’s sudden sacking.

“He can still fix it. The move would not only ensure the independence of the investigation, but also provide evidence of Rosenstein’s own independence.”

To make his point on the political independence of the judicial branch, Bharara recalled a couple of incidents. One, in 2004, when Comey threatened to resign, as deputy attorney general in the George W Bush administration, to defend his legal objection to a secret terrorist surveillance programme. Comey, and then FBI Director Robert Mueller, prevailed at the time.

“Jim Comey was once my boss and remains my friend…I am proud to know a man who had the courage to say no to a president… In the tumult of this time, the question whose answer we should perhaps fear the most is …Are there still public servants who are prepared to say no to the president?”, Bharara asked.

He also recalled the inexplicable 2007 firing by the Bush administration of more than eight of its own US attorneys.

The Senate held a bipartisan investigation into those firings and the politicisation of the Justice Department.

“We learned that Justice Department officials in Washington had improperly applied a conservative ideological litmus test to attorneys seeking career positions, to immigration judges and even to the hiring of interns. Amid the drumbeat of revelations, every top leader of the department stepped down under a cloud. Finally, (White House Counsel Alberto) Gonzales himself resigned,” Bharara recalled.

“Strict protocols were put in place severely limiting White House contacts with Justice officials on criminal matters. The blow to the morale and reputation of the department was incalculable.”

Bharara’s scathing article came days after he explained why he did not return a call from Trump two days before being fired.

“I was doing everyone a favour by not returning the call. I was doing the President a favour by not returning the call,” he told New York University’s School of Law Dean Trevor Morrison last week.

“Who on earth was going to believe that the President of the US in a remarkable and unprecedented fashion is cultivating a relationship with the US Attorney in Manhattan, whose jurisdiction includes various things, only to shoot the breeze... Who is going to believe that? I saved a lot of people a lot of grief (by not returning the call). At that point I was kind of done with him (Trump) so I didn’t return the call,” he said.

(with inputs from agencies)

First Published: May 15, 2017 15:58 IST