13 March 2017

Reet, Preet and Gone

You should be able to tell the difference in the way American right-wingers generally and right-wingers from New York responded to last weekend's news that federal prosecutor Preet Bharara had been asked to resign by the Attorney General, and then fired for refusing to do so. To the rest of the country, it looks like Bharara is just another whiny Democrat, being an Obama appointee, whose foreign name probably makes him all the more contemptible. To New Yorkers, Bharara, born in India of a Sikh father and Hindu mother, Bharara looks more like one of the last truly nonpartisan figures in public life. He owes that reputation to his record of fighting corruption in the New York State Legislature. His investigations led to the fall from power and conviction of Sheldon Silver, the Democratic speaker of the state assembly, and Dean Skelos, the Republican leader of the state senate. More recently his inquiries have penetrated the inner circle of Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo, and I heard many people rooting for him to go after the biggest of prizes within his reach, the governor himself. Unfortunately, as a federal prosecutor Bharara serves at the pleasure of the President, and when the White House changes parties spoilsmanship is the customary practice. Bharara was removed in a clean sweep of federal prosecutors that seems to have been more the Attorney General's idea than the President's. Resignations were asked (i.e. demanded) of all of them, and the only reason Bharara kicked was that Donald Trump supposedly had told him last November that he wanted Bharara to stick around after he became President. Automatically it was assumed by partisan observers and others hostile to Trump that the President must have had something to hide, in his public or private capacities, from the relentless prosecutor. The simpler and more likely explanation would be that Trump or Sessions wanted new prosecutors in place, both as customary practice and in order to assure that they'd all be on the same page as the administration. I don't know to what extent the White House can tell these prosecutors whom or what to prosecute, but I'd assume they wanted zero possibility of resistance or obstruction and considered every Obama appointee suspect, even one of Bharara's honorable reputation. It's unlikely, however, that this is the last we'll hear of Preet Bharara. He'll certainly be in demand as a talking head on TV, and his inevitable memoir will be in demand from publishers. While his foreign birth disqualifies him from the presidency, his influence over New York State politics may not be at an end. It might be fitting for his next public role to be that of the Empire State's attorney general, if not its governor. He could be the next Thomas Dewey, the next Rudy Giuliani or -- one really hopes not in this case -- the next Eliot Spitzer. New York loves its prosecutors, but they don't always justify that love.

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