STAY TUNED WITH PREET
“Doing Justice Live”
Taped on 3/19/19; broadcast 3/21/19
Preet Bharara: From CAFE, welcome to Stay Tuned. I’m Preet Bharara.
Preet Bharara: I go by Preet, my full Indian name is Preetinder Singh Bharara. I was born in Punjab, India. I grew up in Jersey.
Preet Bharara: And I became the Chief Federal Law Enforcement Officer in Manhattan, appointed by the first African American President in the history of the country. That’s amazing stuff.
Preet Bharara: That’s me and Bianna Golodryga. She’s the co-host of CBS This Morning and she interviewed me live on stage at NYU Skirball Center about my new book, Doing Justice. We talk obviously about justice, truth, and the rule of law. And a lot of the stories I tell in the book about some of the greatest colleagues I’ve ever hard. The men and women at the Southern District of New York.
Preet Bharara: Thank you. I wrote a book. So, I’m an author, which I’ve never been before. The longest thing I ever wrote before was I think a term paper in college, so it was a lot of hard work. So, I appreciate your support. I have good news. Have you read it yet? Some of you, maybe Evelyn Woods, is almost entirely un-redacted. So, while you wait for The Mueller Report to come out, which may or may not become public, read the book over and over and over again.
Preet Bharara: Also I know that you all got a copy of the book that I signed personally. No one has ever applauded my signature before. You should still buy other forms of the book, the audiobook, which did not come with the price of admission. So, please by that also. I’ve got three kids who are gonna enter college really soon, and I don’t yet have the money to bribe elite institutions.
Preet Bharara: So, thank you. I’m very pleased with how the book has been received. I really hope you enjoy it. I appreciate the support. The fact that a whole bunch of readers show up to a live show of the podcast, is very gratifying. We have had some good reviews, I think my staff keeps the bad reviews away from me, but they assure me there have not been any so far. Not that I’m looking, not that I pay attention to metrics, but before I walked out here we were number 21 on the Amazon Bestseller list. I’m just a little competitive.
Preet Bharara: Now let’s get to your questions. A few. “Heya Preet,” and these are all from real people who put in questions outside. “What’s the deal with today’s news about Michael Cohen and the search warrants? Thanks, Penelope.” So, some of you may have seen that there’s some news that some of the search warrant documentation was made public today. And that’s a search warrant that was executed by agents of the FBI, in coordination with my old office, The Southern District of New York. And, what’s interesting to me just briefly, is that there are still 19 or 20 pages of that search warrant documentation that remain redacted. And that relates to the campaign finance violation, which is interesting because it tends to suggest that it would harm some ongoing investigation if that information were to be made public.
Preet Bharara: And, as I’ve said on the podcast a number of times, and others have I think commented as well, the greatest legal jeopardy in some measure for the President is that, you had a statement by Michael Cohen at his plea proceeding, when he pled guilty and allowed himself to be sentenced to prison for a campaign finance violation, by making those pay offs right before the election, he said that he did that in coordination with and at the direction of the President of the United States, Individual-1, his wonderful nickname.
Preet Bharara: And so, the fact that there are still some redaction, that the prosecutors think are important to maintain, means perhaps that there are other people who might be implicated in it. There are other shoes to drop. And so, I think we have to monitor that closely. But that’s a sign that maybe we’re not done with that.
Preet Bharara: This is from, I think it says Gary. Your handwriting is terrible. Gary Lesser. “Question, did a jury ever acquit a defendant that you personally tried? Why do you think the jury acquitted?” And the answer to that is yes, twice. And I talk about that in the book. I have an entire chapter about the moment of a jury verdict and what it feels like in the courtroom, and how obviously the person who cares most about the result is the person on trial, because his or her freedom is at stake. But I say it’s also mildly traumatic for the prosecutor too. The prosecutors pays also, because they don’t know what’s gonna happen, because the system hopefully is not rigged. And you don’t how a jury is gonna react.
Preet Bharara: And sometimes justice is served is by an acquittal, sometimes you think justice is not, but you accept the verdict of the jury and you move on. And I would often say, based on things that my predecessors would say, that it’s important to come out forthrightly and tell people, “Yeah, I tried cases, and I got acquittals,” ’cause there’s no shame in an acquittal. Again as I said before, the job of a prosecutor is to do justice, do the right thing, work as hard as you can, like any endeavor. And if it doesn’t result in the outcome that you wanted, that doesn’t mean that you failed, it means that people saw it a different way.
Preet Bharara: And I would tell folks after a verdict, whether there was an acquittal or a conviction, that you come into the US Attorney’s offices, [inaudible 00:06:14] started before my time, and you have a discussion about the case. And you never want it to be … This is an important part of the culture I think of SDNY that I talk about a lot in the book, that you never want people to think that somehow they failed because they got an acquittal if they worked hard. There are a lot of people by the way with convictions who are pretty half assed about how they went about doing the trial, they just had overwhelming facts and overwhelming evidence, it’s true. Lots of prosecutors think they’re tremendous trial lawyers when they’re not. They just have a confession and a videotape and the fool decided to go to trial.
Preet Bharara: So, it’s about the effort. It’s not about the result. And I think that’s a lesson actually that applies not only to criminal prosecutions but to life generally, whether you’re in teaching or in business or anything else. So, I made it a point to tell folks when they came and had to report an acquittal and they’d be dejected, because, you know, as a profession setback they thought and they thought justice wasn’t done, because they thought the person was guilty, and that’s a fair position to have. And I would always tell them, “Look. I had two acquittals, and I still became your boss.” So, it’s not the end of the world.
Preet Bharara: Next question. “Do you think we should restructure the Supreme Court to avoid strategic partisan retirements or any other changes to SCOTUS, to de-politicize it?” So, there’s been a lot of talk about, and I’ve talked about this before myself, about the Supreme Court, and it’s interesting that there’s not been balance between the number of appointees from Democratic or Republican Presidents, that is consistent with or tracks or correlates with how many years a particular party has been in office, based on the vagaries of passing away, and the vagaries of retirement. And you could have strategic retirements I guess. I guess Anthony Kennedy did something of that sort, to make sure that a particular President appoints a successor, maintaining a particular kind of ideological balance and some people don’t like that, and I’m becoming closer and closer to the view that that’s not great.
Preet Bharara: There are some people who have been suggesting that we have term limits, I’m coming around to that point of view, staggered term limits, so that it’s not just a matter of luck. Even though there have been, you know, a certain party has been in office for a certain period of time, the disconnect between how many times a Republican has been able to appoint someone to the Supreme Court far outpaces the number of times a Democrat has. And it may be in the future that the reverse is true, that also doesn’t seem fair and doesn’t seem to be what was in the minds of the founding fathers. So, I would openly welcome some proposals about term limits. I don’t know how I feel about expanding the court. That seems odd and may be cumbersome to me, but I think the time has come to think about doing something about the length of tenure for a Supreme Court Justice.
Preet Bharara: Next question. “Hey Preet. What’s your over/under on the release date of The Mueller Report?” That’s from Tim and Fran. I have no freaking idea. I am of the mind, I’ve said this over the last couple of days, I’m not in the camp that thinks it’s gonna be imminent, and I could be proven wrong by the time this show is over. There are a lot of signs that maybe it’s imminent. You had Andrew Weissmann who’s one of the principal deputies who decided that he’s gonna leave, although I don’t know that he’s actually left yet. You have certain things that have been wrapping up, I just don’t understand how it can be the case. It could mean you have the Roger Stone trial remaining, you have all sorts of documents that have been seized in various investigations including of Roger Stone and others.
Preet Bharara: You have the letter that was submitted on the part of the special council’s office with respect to Rick Gates, who is a campaign official in the Trump administration, who continues to be cooperating according to the document, on multiple investigations. It seems there’s a lot more things going on. And then today, there was a report that Rod Rosenstein, which was reported with great drama, some weeks ago was gonna be leaving soon, which caused everyone to think, “Well, The Mueller Report must be coming.” The announcement and reporting today is that he’s sticking around for a while. So, maybe that’s a deal with the fallout of an imminent Mueller Report. Seems to be more likely that there’s more things happening, and it’s not wrapping up.
Preet Bharara: So, I don’t know exactly when, various people who are in support of this book were really thrilled it didn’t happen today, maybe it’ll happen tomorrow. But my bet at the moment, it’s gonna be a little while.
Preet Bharara: “Hi Preet. What would be the question you would most want to ask Bruce Springsteen? Thanks, Joyce.” Dear Bruce Springsteen, will you come on my podcast?
Preet Bharara: Final question. “What keeps you from feeling discouraged?” that’s a great question, ’cause there’s a lot to be discouraged about. But I think being discouraged is not a very positive force. I wouldn’t have been able to write a book about what I think justice should be if I felt discouraged all the time. And the people of the Southern District of New York wouldn’t have been able to do their job if they felt discouraged dealing with the worst conduct and actions that humanity has to offer. People killing other folks, people engaging in racketeering conduct, killing witnesses, child trafficking, child pornography, those are terrible things.
Preet Bharara: And I think in the face of that discouraging conduct on the part of other people, I think you get strength from being in the group of people who wants to fix things, and wants to make people safer, and want to rise up. So, in all these tragedies, I always find the good and the hopefulness … Parkland happens, but then all of a sudden you have this activism among students, which has spread to my own children, who wanna do something about the gun laws, who wanna do something about low voter participation. So, I think focusing on what you can do in response to something, can keep you from feeling discouraged.
Preet Bharara: I am also terrifically encouraged by all of you, who support something that you wouldn’t think, you know, in the modern world where people don’t have attention spans, and don’t care to learn about their country or think that everything has to happen in three minute increments, and that you are patient enough to listen to a middle aged lawyer who’s out of a job, talk to interesting thoughtful people, who speak not in soundbites but from a deep wellspring of wisdom and knowledge, that’s actually really encouraging to me about the country. So, so thank you.
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Preet Bharara: This episode of Stay Tuned with Preet is brought to you by the hit Showtime series Billions. Starring Emmy Award Winners Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis. I can’t begin to imagine why they picked Stay Tuned in particular to promote Billions, but you know, life is strange. In this season on Billions, everything changes. Enemies become allies, as long time rivals Chuck Rhoades and Bobby Axelrod are forced to work together to claw their way back on top. The scheming and sabotage will leave you guessing, as they seek revenge on anyone and everyone who stand in their way. Don’t miss the new season of Billions, which started Sunday March 17th, at 9:00 PM.
Preet Bharara: To get a free month of Showtime, go to showtime.com and enter code Preet. This offer is for first time subscribers only and expires March 31st. That’s showtime.com, code Preet.
Preet Bharara: So now we begin the interview portion. Usually I’m the one who asks the questions, but since it’s my book, someone else is asking the questions. It’s my great honor to bring out, I’ll introduce her and then she will take over as the host for the rest of the evening, my friend and colleague at CNN, Bianna Golodryga. She is currently a cohost of CBS This Morning, which she joined in October of 2018, as a cohost. She’s also been a CNN Contributor since September of 2017. In 2014 before that, she was with Yahoo as a news and finance anchor. She for many years was a weekend co-anchor for ABC’s Good Morning America and a Business Correspondent. She has a lot of expertise in a lot of things, but principally in economics and foreign policy. She has interviewed all sorts of luminaries, anyone you can think of, in very field, including Warren Buffett, Bill Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, and now she’s slumming it with me. She’s a proud immigrant like I am.
Preet Bharara: And, she’s a fan of Stay Tuned with Preet. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Bianna Golodryga.
Bianna Golodryga: Hey.
Preet Bharara: [inaudible 00:16:21]
Bianna Golodryga: I guess I’m not the only podcast fan. You got a big audience here.
Preet Bharara: Yeah. We have a packed house.
Bianna Golodryga: Yes. Hi everyone.
Preet Bharara: Guys pause and say, “See dad, I didn’t have to become a doctor.”
Bianna Golodryga: Well, if I can just put it in context and then we can get to the interview. So, last month I thought I scored a big interview, it was an exclusive, I interviewed the CEO of Huawei, it was his first interview with an American journalist, so we came back and the interview ran. And my phone just started blowing up, Twitter was on fire. I’m thinking, “Wow, I’m getting a lot of reaction to this Huawei interview, this is great. Totally worth going to China for 48 hours for.” Turns out Preet had just tweeted that this was taking place tonight, so I’m glad I got the mention, but it wasn’t what I’d expected.
Bianna Golodryga: So, this is a fantastic book. I told you, I’ve read this twice. And it’s not for somebody who only cares about the law, it’s somebody who wants to go into the law, it’s for somebody who’s an American citizen and wants to know how you feel about current environment and laws in general. So, as we await The Mueller Report, I wanna ask you, why write this book now?
Preet Bharara: So, I had time. Not as much time as I thought, ’cause I do a bunch of things, I have these podcasts you know.
Bianna Golodryga: Yes.
Preet Bharara: And as I say in the preface of the book, you know, I had this thought of writing and as you saw in the introduction, this guide for folks, and then I left office and I wanted to write something and people seemed interested in publishing it. We talk about Trump all the time, and I do too, and there’s Twitter for that, and I talk about it in the podcast. But I think we’ve lost sight of something. You have people who say with a straight face, it was alternative facts, and truth isn’t truth, and undermining the rule of law by their rhetoric and by their actions, so I don’t talk about Trump so much in this.
Bianna Golodryga: Hardly at all actually.
Preet Bharara: Hardly at all. Although he’s implied in all of it, right? Because he’s President and everything that’s going on, it’s sort of like, you know, at the funeral of John McCain, Trump’s name wasn’t mentioned once. But when people talk about decency and honor and truth and dignity, that seems to today imply a criticism of Donald Trump. That says a lot.
Preet Bharara: And so, people who read portions of the book, all the things that I say in the book are things that I believed long before Donald Trump ever ran for office. They may have more resonance now, because people are seeing what could happen if you have a President who doesn’t believe in certain norms and certain principles and certain tenets of truth and justice and rule of law. So I thought I would take a step back and not talk about Trump and the every day new cycle and go back to basics, like I said in the preface, you know, what does it mean to be fair minded? What does it mean to do things the right way? What does it mean to do things in the right way for the right reasons all the time, through the stories that I have from my time as US Attorney.
Preet Bharara: And I think it’s important for people to think about basic principles and learn how to think for themselves. You know, laws are important and regulations are important, and you can write good ones, but that does not assure just society or just outcomes or fairness, if the people who are responsible in those oceans of discretion that they have, don’t take care to do things the right way.
Bianna Golodryga: You were the US Attorney for the Southern District for seven and a half years.
Preet Bharara: I was indeed.
Bianna Golodryga: [crosstalk 00:20:02], the Southern District. You say this book is a love letter to the Southern District. In what sense? Why?
Preet Bharara: Someone else said that too. Look, so all of you folks, and there’s some Southern District people here, love letter was for you who, you know, they wonder what’s gonna happen with Michael Cohen and they wonder what that office is about. So, I wanted to explain to people what that office is about, what the DNA is, what the culture is, what the philosophy is. And, in way that’s not just what you see on television or in the show Billions, which interestingly is a sponsor of the show.
Preet Bharara: Oddly, I read an ad for Billions just this week. They’re not a sponsor of the live podcast but what the hell, watch Billions. It’s very fictionalized. And, you know what? I don’t think this story has been told so much. So, people know the big cases, people know about the insider trading case and some of the other things that get reported in the press, and everyone now knows about Michael Cohen, and they know my name often, because I’m a big mouth of Twitter, but also because the US Attorney’s name whether it’s me or someone else is on every indictment. But there are all sorts of unsung heroes whose names you don’t know, whose faces you are not familiar with.
Bianna Golodryga: Kenny McCabe.
Preet Bharara: Kenny McCabe, who passed away a few years ago from cancer, is a subject of an entire chapter. He’s basically the guy who after spending a number of years as a police officer fighting the mob, the Italian mafia, La Cosa Nostra, with [inaudible 00:21:39] all five families, then became the most beloved and effective investigator at the Southern District of New York. You’ve never heard of him. And, he’s a huge guy, 6’6, gruff Irish guy.
Preet Bharara: He was the guy who arrested John Gotti, once upon a time when he was with the NYPD, and worked day in and day out developing encyclopedic knowledge of the mob, at a time when there were gangland killings happening all over the city, when people were afraid of extortion rackets, when the mob was really at its height, it was Kenny McCabe who quietly just doing his job, every day, building his cases as I say in the book, brick by brick by brick, without any flash. He was a tough guy, and I’m like, some people who like to talk about being tough, he never talked about being tough, he never had to act tough, he just was tough, ’cause he was strong and courageous, and I think it’s worthwhile for people to know stories about guys like that.
Bianna Golodryga: He’s the real deal.
Preet Bharara: He was the real deal.
Bianna Golodryga: You break the book up into four sections, delving into the four phases of a case. Inquiry, accusation, judgment and punishment. Which one required the most self-reflection and writing?
Preet Bharara: Oh wow. That’s a good question. So, part of the reason I set it up that way is that’s the arc of any case, right? And they’re distinct. First you think about what the facts are, you can’t make a decision until you know what the facts are. Then after you figure out what the facts are, you have to make a decision, do you charge or not charge? Same with the reporter, in your line of work, you may do an investigation as a reporter, but then you have to make a decision, do you actually run the piece that makes an accusation about someone? In your line of work you don’t have the third and fourth phases, which you do in the law enforcement area. Judgment, so who’s right, and then finally punishment. There’s no punishment really except reputational in your line of work.
Preet Bharara: So, in some ways the inquiry section was difficult and complicated, because there’s so many areas to cover. What’s fair and right and just in an interrogation? What’s fair and just and right in flipping a witness, or flipping a defendant? What’s fair and just and right in using wire taps and using stings? And so, there’s a lot of sort of moral gray area when you’re talking about how to go about investigating someone when something bad has happened. So, that I think is very difficult.
Preet Bharara: I think the most difficult thing, where I take a pass, is in punishment. So, it’s the final section of the book where I talk about how excruciatingly hard it is for a judge and sometimes for a prosecutor to recommend a particular sentence. And we all have been sort of armchair critics of the Paul Manafort sentence, or many of us have been, but it is a really hard thing to decide with particularity, when you’re talking about human liberty, how many months precisely or how many days precisely is sufficient but not more than necessary to accomplish the ends of the criminal justice system, to send someone to prison.
Preet Bharara: So, in some ways writing that section, because there’s some terrible stories and sad stories, was maybe the most difficult.
Bianna Golodryga: So, my takeaway in reading the book was the inquiry section, was arguably what drove you first to this line of work. And, you mentioned your friend Jessica who’s here, and her connection to The Menendez Brothers, right, led you to realize that anyone could be guilty of anything.
Bianna Golodryga: Talk about your connection with The Menendez Brothers though, ’cause that blew me away.
Preet Bharara: So, there’s a slight spoiler in the first chapter. It’s a very good thing by the way, unrelated to justice but actually maybe not, so unrelated, if you have really good dear friends when you’re young, you should stay in touch with them.
Bianna Golodryga: Yeah.
Preet Bharara: So, I didn’t know The Menendez Brothers, but Jessica’s family did, and you may remember the whole saga, and there have been movies and books written about it, and it’s come into common discussion more recently because I think there’s a series on television. And The Menendez Brothers’ parents were shot and killed, and Jessica called me one day and told me about it, and she was crying because The Menendez parents were her parents’ best friends in the world. And I’d heard about them for a long time. And she was close to the boys, Lyle and Erik, and she says, you know, “They’ve been massacred, and they think it might have been a mob hit.”
Preet Bharara: And so, not to tell you the whole story, ’cause you’ll read about it, over time it became more and more clear that what seemed impossible, that they had been the victims of their own children, was actually in fact true. And as I described in the book, Jessica and I spent an entire night once it was clear that they were gonna admit that they had done the shooting, but that it had been based on years they claimed, of abuse, physical and I think they might have alleged sexual abuse. How could you have missed that? And I think Jessica felt upset. You know, how could you miss something like that when you’re very very close, and you’d been in their homes, and they’ve stayed with you for days at a time, and your parents know them extremely well, you know, it happens.
Preet Bharara: And it’s a shattering thing to think that that can happen, and you can get it wrong. But it’s a pretty instructive thing for someone in a particular line of work like mine. And so, to this day, and that was …By the way, that happened when I think I was 19 or 20 years old. And the case took so long to finish, there were three trials, there were all these appeals at the California Supreme Court, and the conviction didn’t happen, so the murder happened when I was in college, and I think the appeals were done when I had passed the bar exam. But Jessica and I never talked about the law, we never talked about what the potential sentence would be, we didn’t really talk about legal defenses. We talked about as a human matter, how do you miss that? How do you spend all this time with the family and then the murder happens, and you go to the service, and one of the sons gives a moving eulogy, and you can’t tell that it wasn’t meant.
Preet Bharara: And that to me was very important. And so, when people tell me, not to be overly dramatic about it, till this day, when people tell me, “You know what? I looked at this, and that person couldn’t have done it,” I think about The Menendez Brothers case.
Bianna Golodryga: Yeah.
Preet Bharara: ‘Cause you never know.
Bianna Golodryga: It was eye opening for you, captivating the nation, and then Jessica thank you because I plowed through chapter one on to chapter two, so well placed my friend.
Bianna Golodryga: You also have a chapter devoted to the principles of interrogation, and we all know this country has a complicated history with interrogation, Abu Ghraib comes to mind. You write in the book, it’s obviously illegal in the United States and you write in the book that the best evidence shows that nothing useful comes from torture.
Bianna Golodryga: The President told my colleague, CBS This Morning’s John Dickerson, that we need to expand the law of torture, to allow torture and waterboarding. Can you walk us through why you think that’s wrong?
Preet Bharara: It’s idiotic. No.
Preet Bharara: So, in some ways I thought that it may be the most important chapter in the book, because it shows the distinction between what people think is right and effective based on media and movies and television and Hollywood, and what is really true. And so, I spent a lot of time talking to real people, confirming my own personal experience and view, and to try to communicate to the reader that it’s not just an ideological viewpoint, that every effective investigator, every effective interrogator, understands that … And it may not sit well with people when you’re talking about folks who have committed huge crimes and killed a lot of people, maybe even terrorists, to be nice to them.
Preet Bharara: You’ll be nice to them because you wanna be kind and decent, you’re nice as a matter of effectiveness. Every investigator I talked to, and in my own experience said, “If you wanna get someone to tell you something, you don’t threaten them, you don’t beat them. If you beat them and threaten them, they’ll tell you what they think you wanna hear, which is not the truth.” And I think I write, you know, with some tang, that in the real world, where testosterone does not run like a river in the streets, the best way to get people to talk to you is through building rapport. And I think that’s really important.
Preet Bharara: And so, when the President says, who doesn’t care about evidence or expertise or data or anything else, whether it’s climate change or interrogations, it just, it’s kind of fluffy toughness which has no basis in reality. There’s a lot of misperception about what toughness is, and some people think, “Well, you can’t coddle anyone.” And that’s true by the way also in the incarceration context, people think more about punishment before there’s been a crime or a conviction for a crime, rather than think about the way in which you can get information or rehabilitate people. Or make people take a different path, and that’s just to me, it’s rhetoric that appeals to a certain base instinct that people have about folks who’ve committed crimes.
Bianna Golodryga: Let’s move on to snitches. How should we feel about snitches? The President likes to use that word, one of your colleagues calls them cooperating witnesses, he prefers that and said, “They can help a case, they can also screw a case.”
Preet Bharara: So …
Bianna Golodryga: And is Michael Cohen considered a snitch?
Preet Bharara: So, snitch is not a good word, I use it in the title of the chapter to be colorful. I have never called cooperating witnesses snitches or rats, as people had been discussing when our President does it. That’s the language of mobsters. But there are lots of words that people use to describe folks who decide to flip and cooperate. There’s a deep seeded human aversion to folks who turn against other people they used to be close to. I begin the chapter on cooperating witnesses with a story … I’m sure my kids hate this, with a story about my daughter, my oldest child, and my middle child when they were six and four, and Maya and Jayden, whose names I didn’t used to mention because I was worried about safety, but I mentioned them in the book.
Preet Bharara: Maya was like six and she comes into the kitchen and clearly something has happened outside. Some criminal act has occurred, and she comes in and sees my wife Dalya and I, and me in the kitchen, and she has her arms crossed in that tattle tale kind of way, Jayden is crying, clearly freaked out that he’s gonna be outed for engaging in whatever, you know, [inaudible 00:32:43] activity, he was engaged in. And, she’s about to tell us something, and Jayden is crying hysterically and saying, “No Maya, no.” And as, I don’t know if this is good parenting or not, but I’m just telling you this story, we stopped her and we said, “Is everything all right?” “Yes.” “Is anyone hurt?” “Yes.”
Bianna Golodryga: No.
Preet Bharara: I’m sorry, no, no, no, I’m sorry, no.
Bianna Golodryga: [crosstalk 00:33:09]
Preet Bharara: “Is everything all right?” “Yes.” “Is anyone hurt?” “No.” Sorry. And it was that we don’t wanna hear it. And her very logical intelligent brilliant mind didn’t understand that, ’cause it was not about logic. It was you know what? You don’t have to tell on your brother, it’s okay. And the point of that story is that it’s a deep seeded thing. We don’t like it. Even if it’s good, even if it’s right, even if it’s just, even if it causes accountability, we don’t like it. Even in our own family if one child, assuming everything is okay, so it’s not a perfect analogy, we don’t like it when one child is gonna tell another for the sake of telling on another.
Preet Bharara: And yet, in our system that works, it is one of the most profound tools of criminal law enforcement that we’ve ever had. The mafia would be, you know, we had this assassination last week of the head of the Gambino crime family presumably, I don’t know if it’s related to gang violence or not, but that used to be a regular occurrence. That would still be a regular occurrence. You would still have massive extortion schemes and people running scared against the mob, if we couldn’t use this tool of cooperation.
Preet Bharara: And, it’s a moral thicket, and you have to make sure that you guide your way through it. But it’s been interesting to me, and one of the reasons I liked writing the chapter, it’s been interesting to me to hear people who are not schooled in this idea of cooperation, one of whom by the way is the President of the United States, who thinks it should be outlawed, ’cause it’s bad for him, is that people for the first time who are not prosecutors or law enforcement officials, talking about the morality of it. And I think it’s been a useful discussion, and I think people learn a lot about the process by reading that chapter.
Bianna Golodryga: Yeah, one of your former prosecutors said, “You may not fall in love with a cooperator,” right? Complicated relationship.
Preet Bharara: Yeah, because there’s danger. It’s a weird thing. Cooperation is so weird because one, depending on the nature of it right, and when it happens, on day one, the prosecutor brings the case, United States versus so and so, Michael Cohen.
Bianna Golodryga: How helpful has he been?
Preet Bharara: So, I don’t know that Michael Cohen has been helpful. Ordinarily if you’re incredibly helpful, you get what’s called a Cooperation Agreement. He doesn’t have one with Special Counsel Mueller, he doesn’t have one with the Southern District of New York. He keeps saying that he’s continuing to meet and it seems that that’s true, and even though he’s already been sentenced, he’s relying on this other, you know, more obscure to the public rule, which is numbered 35, and through a rule 35 motion, you can in rare instances get credit for cooperating with the government and providing substantial assistance, even after you have been sentenced. And even after you’ve gone to prison.
Preet Bharara: There’s some evidence based on what I said before, about the redaction of those pages from the Michael Cohen search warrant affidavit, that makes it seem like maybe he’s providing new information and he’s being very helpful, it’s just unclear. But he’s not been as helpful as some people might think, because if he had been in my view, he would have had a Bonafide Cooperation Agreement with the government and maybe wouldn’t have gone to prison at all.
Bianna Golodryga: So, as we mentioned, you don’t talk specifically about the President much throughout the book, but he looms throughout it. And in one area it’s how the socia landscape has changed within the country. People chanting, “Lock her up,” at various rallies with the President supporting and other political figures … Aside from being disturbing to watch on many levels, what dangers does something like that pose?
Preet Bharara: So, part of the reason I wrote the book is I have a concern that in certain contexts, and I get it, I don’t like the President either, and not because he fired me, ’cause I don’t really care about that. I care because I think he’s undermining a lot of things in this country. But it becomes dangerous if you substitute your political preference for law and justice and facts require. And I fear … By the way, much of this is propelled by the President himself, by causing people to think it’s okay, in the absence of knowledge about the facts, in the absence of knowledge about the law, to chant, “Lock her up.”
Preet Bharara: You know, the former Attorney General was at a rally where he allowed that happen. And it should have been shut down. And if you believe in proper legal process, you know, there are people who should go to prison because of committed heinous crimes, but leaping forward in the political context is saying that that’s okay, I think is really dangerous. And it is gonna put into question this thing that we’ve all been waiting for, The Mueller Report, and you have the person with the biggest megaphone on the planet conditioning tens of millions of people, his base, to not believe anything that comes out of the mouth of the office of the Special Prosecutor.
Preet Bharara: So, these leaps to judgment, “Lock her up, lock him up,” I think are very dangerous for that reason.
Bianna Golodryga: And how dangerous is the constant questioning and bashing of law enforcement, whether it be Mueller or the FBI? I say this because I was listening to an interview that Christopher Ray gave about a year ago, he’s the Director of the FBI, and he said what concerns him the most and why honesty, integrity is so crucial within the FBI, is that one day when an FBI agent is testifying before a jury, and the jury for whatever reason doesn’t believe them, thinks they’re lying, then we’re in trouble.
Bianna Golodryga: Are we close to that?
Preet Bharara: You know, I think we’re getting there. But I wanna make clear one thing, no individual or a class of individuals is beyond criticism. That’s true of the media, that’s true of the bench, the courts, that’s true of law enforcement officials, it’s true of FBI officials. There are people who wander away from best practices, who are unethical, who do bad things, and it’s find to be generally critical. The problem is, we’ve got a guy who takes it to the next level and beyond.
Preet Bharara: And so, it’s problematic if you undermine faith and institutions in such a cynical way, based on whether it’s good for you or not good for you. I mean look, the President, it’s not just what he does with FBI officials, he picks and chooses based on whether someone is for him or against him. It’s an article of faith that he hates CNN and he loves Fox News. That’s actually not true. He just recently mocked and attacked particular Fox News personalities on air, because they had the temerity to say something critical and be a little bit independent.
Preet Bharara: So, I think if you’re doing it in the way that’s incredibly cynical, and it’s all about your own self preservation, and you bring all these supporters along and have them doubt not based on principle, but based on partisanship and politics and political preference, then I think that’s a problem.
Bianna Golodryga: Let me ask you about an area that you might surprisingly see more commonality with the President on, and that’s criminal justice reform. You say in the book, “On a policy level we must rethink sentence length, mandatory minimums, discretion in charging, cash bail, and so many other things.” Do you support what this President has done thus far in addressing criminal justice reform?
Preet Bharara: Yeah. I think it’s actually a good result. And I think that a lot of people on the left and the right should get credit for moving the ball on criminal justice reform. I think we can do a lot more, and I think if you had a different President we could do a lot more. And maybe it’s the case as people say, you know, “Only Nixon could go to China. You know, only President Trump could cause that kind of reform to happen in a particular way.”
Preet Bharara: But yeah, I think that’s to be commended, and to the extent Jared Kushner has something to do with it. That’s to be commended also.
Bianna Golodryga: Was justice served in the Manafort sentencing?
Preet Bharara: Sentencing is, so I said this already once, sentencing is so hard, one of the reasons and if you’re a regular podcast listener, you’ve heard me say this a couple of times, I’ve never aspired to be a judge, and one of the reasons I haven’t is because I never wanna be sitting in a chair to pronounce judgment on how many days, weeks, and months someone should be deprived of liberty, it’s just really not my cup of tea.
Preet Bharara: And, it’s subject to second guessing and how can you really know? And no two human beings necessarily will give the same prison sentence. My view of the Paul Manafort sentencing is that it was low. Was it crazy low? Ultimately I don’t think so. Given how crazy the sentencing guidelines are, which call for at least in the one case 19 and a half years to 24 and a half years, I don’t know any judge in a case where there were no identifiable victims, where the [inaudible 00:41:55] was 69 years of age, with no prior record, notwithstanding the guidelines, which some people think are exorbitant and I think they are also in many respects … I don’t think he was getting 19 and a half, and I’m saying he should get 19 and a half, and the Special Counsel’s office didn’t say he should get 19 and a half.
Preet Bharara: He ended up getting seven and a half. I think that’s low given the duration of the crime, the seriousness of the crime, and all the other things he did including tampering with witnesses and sort of flouting the rule of law. But on the other hand seven and a half years is not nothing.
Bianna Golodryga: Yeah.
Preet Bharara: It’s a significant sentence.
Bianna Golodryga: And you devote a chapter to judges and you write, “A judge can get a bit too involved in the proceedings, provide a bit too much running color commentary, act more like an announcer than an umpire.” You’ve had your fair share of run-ins with judges. You’ve also had sweet moments though, including with Judge Fox who sent you a personal note. I didn’t realize you and your wife had been attacked. You’ll read about this in the book as well.
Preet Bharara: So, one of the principal points I make in the book, which I say is a tautology, and I would say the young assistants when the came in the office, and this may sound mundane and silly, but it’s really important. Everyone’s a human being. People are just people. And [inaudible 00:43:08] duh. But people forget that. You know, you go into a courtroom, and the judge is up there and he or she is elevated and wearing the robe and has a gavel, and you’re kinda scared of them, and you think of the ideal of the judge and the judge is supposed to be someone who’s above politics, above personal considerations, it’s just not true.
Preet Bharara: I mean maybe the ideal is that way. Judges wake up in the morning, judges have bad days, judges have insecurities, judges make mistakes, and you have to understand they’re just humans. Defendants are humans also, and they in a different way, you know, judges get exalted and you forget they’re human beings, and you think they’re perfect, and they cause justice to happen impartially. It doesn’t always happen.
Preet Bharara: On the other end of the spectrum, people demonize and dehumanize and forget about and make invisible defendants and they’re sort of talked about like they’re cogs in the system when their liberty is at stake. And you can fun afoul of I think of decency and proper conduct in that way. And there was a case where there was this really mean judge, [inaudible 00:44:12] Fox, who was mean in the courtroom. As I say in the book, if you showed up … He used to keep the clock in the courtroom several minutes fast, so if you showed up on time, you were late.
Preet Bharara: And I thought he was kind of a difficult guy. And then not to indulge too much in this, but when I was a line prosecutor in my second year in the office, Dalya my wife and I were mugged at knife point. And it was a scary moment and I was out of work for a week, and I had a hairline fracture of the skull.
Bianna Golodryga: She was pregnant.
Preet Bharara: Pregnant, seven and a half months pregnant with my daughter, who liked to tattle on her brother later. And, it was a tough experience for my … And it ended up being fine, but we didn’t know it was gonna be fine. And the nicest note that I got, the most heartfelt note on personal stationary was from Judge Fox, who behaved a certain way because he thought it was his role in the courtroom. And I carried his note around for months after that, because it was very touching.
Preet Bharara: You know, I knew a lot of judges, I knew a lot of people. He wrote one of the few notes I got. And some people will send an email, and they’ll call, and you realize you know what? Not everything is what it seems and people play certain roles, but it is on the one hand true, that some judges may seem like they care about justice and they have other things in mind, and some judges may seem mean, like a boss may seem, but they’re very sweet and kind. And that was an important lesson to me.
Bianna Golodryga: As we wind down here, one of the things you said we have in common is that we’re both immigrants, proud immigrants-
Preet Bharara: That’s right.
Bianna Golodryga: Of this amazing country. We both came here at the age of two. I came from the Soviet Union, former Soviet Union, you came from India, and I can’t help but notice how often you refer to your parents. And not only because you do a great impression of your dad’s accent. They clearly are your moral compass, and I-
Preet Bharara: It’s in the contract.
Bianna Golodryga: Can you just be sentimental for a minute? I wanna get you like teary eyed. But talk about that because I feel the same way about my parents. We’re a country of immigrants, immigration’s front and center these days in the headlines, and I repeatedly tell as many people as I can that I can’t find two more patriotic Americans than my parents, who when I come home in a bad mood or depressed about the direction the country’s in, they always say, “We could’ve been back in Russia.”
Bianna Golodryga: And I wonder what influence your parents had in the decisions you’ve made.
Preet Bharara: You ask me this in their presence.
Bianna Golodryga: Yes, because I met them and I really like them.
Preet Bharara: All right. Let’s go.
Bianna Golodryga: Unsung heroes.
Preet Bharara: Look, if you wanna know how I feel about my parents in part, don’t do this now, but if you open up the acknowledgements, I have a lot of people to thank. I think I exceeded the allotment of the acknowledgements page. I have four pages ’cause I’m so indebted to so many people. But I end with a paragraph on my mother and father, who did a lot of brave things and came to this country when it was not easy to do so, because they wanted a better life for their children.
Preet Bharara: And my dad in particular came from nothing. He’s one of 13, one of 13.
Bianna Golodryga: Wow.
Preet Bharara: We can barely handle three. I shudder to think how many tattle tales were among 13 children back in Punjab. And he was the first person in his family to go to college. And he cared about education. And my mother’s the kindest person that I’ve ever met. And they raised us, my brother and I, in suburban New Jersey, as I say in the acknowledgement also. You know, my parents never really wanted us to become lawyers, they’re still mildly annoyed that we didn’t become doctors. But the first lessons I got about justice and fairness, like all this stuff, you know, began with what they modeled and what they did and what they taught.
Preet Bharara: And that’s more that putting food on your plate I think. It’s more than putting clothes on your back. It’s more than anything, this idea that if you do the right thing and you believe in principle, and you work hard and you care about other people and you give back to your country. You know, my parents are also in the way you described, incredibly patriotic. I have three things that are important to me in my Twitter bio. Not necessarily in this order: fired by Trump, banned by Putin, Springsteen fan, and proud immigrant.
Bianna Golodryga: Yeah.
Preet Bharara: And one of the things that caused me to be vocal is how much immigration is denigrated, and how much people are talking about, people like you and me, who care so much about people like my parents, ’cause it’s not just about illegal immigration. They say that, but ’cause looking at it [inaudible 00:49:11], that’s bullshit. It’s not just about that. The rhetoric is such that immigration from certain parts of the world is seen a bad. There’s a certain kind of country that’s described with the adjective that begins with S and ends with hit.
Preet Bharara: That’s not about … My children are here. But that’s not about illegal immigration. So, I’m inspired by so many things, I’m more inspired by my parents and what they did and what they sacrificed, and by your parents, and what they sacrificed, and what they did, and what you’re able to become and I’m was able to … I think it’s crazy. You know, I go by Preet. My full Indian name is Preetinder Singh Bharara. I was born in Punjab, India. I grew up in Jersey.
Preet Bharara: And that’s a joke to the [inaudible 00:50:03].
Bianna Golodryga: I got it.
Preet Bharara: And I became the Chief Federal Law Enforcement Officer in Manhattan. Appointed by the first African American President in the history of the country. That’s amazing stuff. Immigrants are important. Immigrants deserve an equal shot, and immigrants should not be denigrated just because they came to this country, because so many of them like your parents and parents, and like my own family, are as patriotic as any human being who has ever set foot in this country.
Bianna Golodryga: As my dad says.
Bianna Golodryga: As my dad says, “Only in America can this happen.” And it’s so true. I think our parents should get together.
Preet Bharara: Do that again. Do-
Bianna Golodryga: Only in America can this happen.
Bianna Golodryga: Okay. Well I wanna end it on one the rave reviews, ’cause I looked for the bad ones, I really tried to look for a bad review and I couldn’t find one. And I wanted to end on a review from The Guardian. And the writer says, “As with everything Bharara does, he writes in a tone that is calm and considered, a warm bath after the outrage of Trump’s daily Tweets.”
Preet Bharara: Go on. Oh was that it?
Bianna Golodryga: That’s it. I was gonna leave it there.
Preet Bharara: I’m gonna just, stay here, I’m gonna thank you in a moment. So, as I do on the regular podcast, I end with something that touched me or moved me. And this week you’ll be surprised to learn, it was all the people who touched me and moved me in the preparation of this book. And, I command your attention to the acknowledgement section where I thank my editor and I thank my agent and I thank my lawyers and I thank my wife and I thank my kids and I thank all the men and women of the US Attorney’s office for the Souther District of New York, without whom I would not have had this career, I would have been able to put this book together. I would not be as inspired as I am to talk about the things that I talk about.
Preet Bharara: But at the end of the book, I end with a story that I think is really special. I’m not gonna spoil it for you and tell you about it. And I thought I would have a conclusion after that and say, you know, “What was this experience of writing the book like? And what might have I done differently if I went back? And what if I’m removed from the job, what do I think?”
Preet Bharara: And my editor Peter in his wisdom, he loved the ending of the book so much he said, “No more words. ‘Cause it ends on a particular note, and I hope you appreciate the note on which it ends.” But it’s always sort of been in my head, and I figure I can do it with the podcast, I knew a lot about the cases in my office, right? I know all the cases and some of my favorite things to talk about are the cases I learned about more after I left, not just the big deal cases that were in the papers, but cases that did not make the headlines.
Preet Bharara: But the one thing that I discovered when I was trying to tell a story about a case, and I did this many, many, many times. I went back and I talked to the agents and the assistants, and the staffers on the cases, for example the John O’Malley exoneration case, with Eric Field and Peter Cross. And I knew what was happening, I got briefed every day. But you know what? I got briefed in a way that was sufficient for me to make the legal decisions and the oversight decisions on the case.
Preet Bharara: When I went to write the book, you want more than that. You just don’t wanna hear the clinical analysis, right? That’s not interesting. I ask questions like, “Well, what did he say when you went to the prison?” And said, “I believe you’re innocent.” How did he react? What did he look like? Was he happy? Did he cry? And you know what? I didn’t know the answers to those questions, because I was so busy in doing my job, that I didn’t have this sort of detail of verisimilitude as they say, ’cause I’m a writer now, as they say in fiction workshops.
Preet Bharara: And I learned so many details about cases. You know, I talk about the Cannibal Cop, this person we charged was an active duty cop, who was aspiring to kill, you know, to rape, kill and cannibalize people including his own wife. And there’s so many cases like that, when I went back and talked to the prosecutors in my office. And I thought I was well versed on those cases. I knew about the formal legal pleadings, I knew about the judgements that had to be made, I knew what the statutes were, but I didn’t know the details of the stories.
Preet Bharara: And I went back for example, I tell a story about a baby girl named Carlina, who was stolen out of Harlem Hospital in 1989 I think. And I was involved in that case, and I knew how the sequence of events were playing out. But I didn’t know the details of what the mother said in court, the biological mother who had lost her daughter for 23 years. And, in some ways I was gratified that I was able to do this book and learn the details, and be able to weave together the stories and tell all of you. But also I was sad that I didn’t take the time when I was in that office, to learn the human details of things.
Preet Bharara: And, to me there’s a larger lesson in that. Whatever job you have, whether you’re a teacher, a lawyer, a business person, an engineer, there’s so much more richness in all the things that you do, and you can let it go by because you’re so interested like I was in just getting to the result, and making sure that you’re making the final decisions and moving on to the next thing, that you can lose texture. And the act of process of writing a book that’s, you know, a lot of stories, and storytelling, not just preaching, but storytelling, awakened me to the idea, that if I ever had a chance to do it again, even if I had to be at the office an hour later every day, I would spend time hearing about the details and learning about the texture and the context and the human reactions. Because that actually is kind of what makes the world go around.
Preet Bharara: And so, I regret that, but I’m glad I learned my lesson at 50, and so I won’t do that again.
Preet Bharara: Thank you all for coming.
Preet Bharara: Well that’s it for this episode of Stay Tuned. If you like the show, rate and review it on Apple Podcasts. Every positive review helps new listeners find the show. Send me your questions about news and politics. Tweet them to me @preetbharar with the hashtag #askpreet. Or give me a call at 669-247-7338. That’s 669-24-PREET. Or you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Preet Bharara: Stay Tuned is presented by CAFE. It’s produced by [Kat Erin 00:57:08] and the team at Pineapple Street Media, Henry Molofsky, Joel Lovell, Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky. The executive producer at CAFE is Tamara Sepper. And the CAFE team is Julie Doyle, Calvin Lord, Renee [Basti 00:57:21], and Jeff [inaudible 00:57:22].
Preet Bharara: Stay Tuned is produced in association with Stitcher. I’m Preet Bharara, Stay Tuned.
Preet Bharara: This episode of Stay Tuned with Preet is sponsored by Billions on Showtime. This is the season where everything changes. Enemies become allies, and allies become enemies. Starring Emmy Award Winners Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis. Don’t miss the new season of Billions. Sunday March 17th at 9:00 PM. Only on Showtime.