STAY TUNED: The State of the State Department (with Ronan Farrow)
Preet Bharara: From CAFE, welcome to Stay Tuned. I’m Preet Bharara.
Ronan Farrow: Colin Powell says we’re tearing the guts out of the State Department, and it’s mortgaging your future. And the reason for that is there’s a generational impact if you staunch the flow of the diplomats who would be tomorrow’s ambassadors.
Preet Bharara: That’s Ronan Farrow. He served in the State Department in the Obama administration and is the author of a new book on American diplomacy, “The War on Peace”. I speak with him about the prospect of a Secretary of State Pompeo, and why the gutting of the diplomatic corps should worry us all. And we talk about his reporting on the #MeToo movement, especially his reporting about Harvey Weinstein, which just won him a Pulitzer Prize. That’s coming up. Stay Tuned.
Okay, let’s get to your questions.
Suzanne: Hi, Preet. This is Suzanne from Georgia. I just saw a tweet from CNN’s Dana Bash, who said, “[J]ust talked to Giuliani who said his role on Trump team is limited. He worked with Mueller at DOJ & as NYC Mayor (Mueller at FBI) He hopes knowing Mueller can help bring the investigation to conclusion, saying it ‘needs a little push.’” You retweeted Dana Bash’s tweet, and you commented, “That’s not how it works.” Rudy Giuliani should know that’s not how it works, right? Why do you think he would say this? Thanks, and I’ll be sure to stay tuned.
Preet Bharara: Suzanne, thanks for your question. I don’t know why Rudy Giuliani says all the things he says. I don’t live in his head, rent-free or otherwise. My comment was about what he seemed to imply by his statement to the CNN reporter Dan Bash, which is, by virtue of the fact that he had some prior relationship, professional relationship or acquaintance with Bob Mueller going back many years, that he can sort of sit down, break bread, and have a beer, and the investigation will be over. And when I said, “It doesn’t work that way”, it’s because it doesn’t work that way. People are professionals. People deal with each other at arm’s length. Rudy Giuliani may or may not be persuasive, depending on where you sit or what the facts are. But he’s not gonna sort of swoop in at the last minute, and because he used to be the mayor of New York City or the U.S. Attorney of the Southern District of New York, cause everything to be wrapped up in like ten days. Mueller doesn’t work that way. The system doesn’t work that way. The Southern District of New York doesn’t work that way. And I’ll point out a couple other things. One is, Rudy Giuliani was last the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District 29 years ago, and he hasn’t been the mayor for over 16 years. So the idea that he has any particular sway over how that office does business and over its career prosecutors doesn’t make a lot of sense. It is true that the interim United States Attorney was his former law partner, but I trust and respect that Jeff Berman had recused himself, as the public reporting has indicated, and that Giuliani will be dealing with people who are doing a professional job and are not gonna be swayed or persuaded simply by the fact that Rudy Giuliani used to head that office.
The one time that I can remember the Giuliani came in on a case that I was involved with when I was the U.S. Attorney was he called me out of the blue one Friday afternoon to tell me that he had been suddenly retained by a person named Reza Zarrab, who was a gold trader from Turkey who we were prosecuting at the time, and later he flipped and pled guilty. During this period, Rudy said he was coming on on his behalf, and he informed me that he now represented Reza Zarrab and was flying that very weekend to Turkey to meet with President Erdogan to try to see if he could negotiate something and make it go away. Now, I’m not saying it’s the same thing, but there is a little bit of similar bravado on the part of Rudy Giuliani calling the sitting United States Attorney and saying, “Yeah, I’m gonna go over there, and we’ll see if we can work this out.” That didn’t work out for his client in the way he expected either.
The next question comes via email from Holly. “Hi, Preet. Love your show. So intelligent, balanced, and yes, entertaining. You are a wonderful interviewer.” Wow, Holly, that’s really a great question. Oh, no, I guess there’s more. “On the arrival of Giuliani as Trump’s most recent counselor, who pays him and others, us, the taxpayers, or him?” So, I presume that Giuliani has come onboard. I haven’t seen the retention agreement or anything else. But my understanding is that Giuliani came on as a personal lawyer in the same way that John Dowd was employed, so he’s being paid, if at all, by Trump directly in his personal capacity. There is a lawyer who you hear about from time to time named Ty Cobb, who has been hired into the White House Counsel’s office to sort of be the quarterback from the Trump and White House perspective with respect to the various investigations that are going on. Ty Cobb, you may like it or not like it, his salary’s paid for by the taxpayers because he’s a White House employee. But I believe Rudy Giuliani is paid for by Trump himself.
Mark: Hi, Preet. This is Mark from Boston, and I was just wondering how difficult you thought it would be for Trump to put in a new acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York who might be able to put a wrench into the investigation of him and Michael Cohen. Thanks.
Preet Bharara: Hi, Mark. Thanks for your question. So, as a preliminary matter, you should know that the current person who is in the U.S. Attorney’s spot in the Southern District is Jeff Berman. And he was installed by the administration by a procedure that only allows him to remain in office, unless he’s reappointed by the full court in the Southern District, until I think about May 4th. So, we don’t know what till happen at that time. Because he has not been nominated and has not been confirmed for the spot by the Senate, his position expires, as I said, around May 4th. And then it’s up to the Southern District of New York Court, led by the Chief Judge Colleen McMahon, to decide whether to appoint him as the U.S. Attorney or to appoint someone else. And I guess we’ll wait and see.
The other part of your question about how easy it would be to install someone who would stymy the investigation—I have great trust and respect for the career prosecutors in the Southern District, most of whom I hired over the course of years. And my view is that no matter who is in charge—and presumably, the person in charge will always be someone of integrity, and I have no reason to doubt Jeff Berman’s integrity—the prosecutors there and the investigators there will always take a case where it belongs based on the facts and based on the law, and political considerations are never gonna come into it. And if they ever did, somebody would cry out about it, and it would become known, and justice would still be done. That’s my view.
The next question is from Emily [?Dorr] on Twitter. “@PreetBharara, you’ve shared that you know many of these folks who are getting attention in the news, either from Trump or someone else in his administration, like Andrew McCabe. How has this changed your friendships with them, what you say about them publicly? #askpreet”. Thanks for using the hash tag. So that, it depends on the person. There are people who I consider friends and have considered friends for a long time with whom I have not had a lot of recent contact. One of them is Andy McCabe. Another one is Jim Comey. And there are a bunch of other folks, both who work with the Special Counsel and even some lawyers who have worked for President Trump. I try to make it clear, if I’m stating an opinion about somebody, or about their work product, or about how they’re pursuing their interests, that I state the fact that I know them and have some relationship with them. I did that with Andy McCabe. I thought it was only fair. And I did that with others as well, as I think you should know what my connections are to people before I talk about them, which is something that Sean Hannity did not do when talking about Michael Cohen. Has it changed my friendships with people? Not yet. There are some people who, for example, work with the Special Counsel or are working on sensitive cases, and I actually make it a point not to have any conversations with them at all, not even social contact, because I don’t want anyone to ever say, given that I speak publicly about things and how much speculation and cynicism there is about people sharing information they shouldn’t, I just don’t talk to them. I presume at some point in the future, when all is said and done, many beers will be had or coffees drunk. But until then, it hasn’t really changed my relationship with folks. But it makes me more cautious than I might otherwise be in how I interact with them.
[Interview with Ronan]
Preet Bharara: Ronan Farrow, thank you for coming on the show.
Ronan Farrow: Thank you for having me.
Preet Bharara: Can I start with something? I don’t mean to embarrass you, but you said once, “Our culture has kind of let the Renaissance man die out.” Are you a Renaissance man?
Ronan Farrow: God. I should have known that would come back to haunt me. So, the deal with where that comes from is—
Preet Bharara: You do a lot of things, so that’s why I’m—
Ronan Farrow: That was a commencement speech that I gave when I was the same age as the graduating class, because I had this Doogie Howser thing where I went to college really young.
Preet Bharara: How young?
Ronan Farrow: 11. Deal with it.
Preet Bharara: 11. What age did you go to law school?
Ronan Farrow: I deferred for two years after I got in, so I would have been like 17, 18.
Preet Bharara: And then you finished law school at?
Ronan Farrow: What is that, 20?
Preet Bharara: You finished law school at 20.
Ronan Farrow: I think that’s right.
Preet Bharara: I guess the same law school that Michael Cohen went to?
Ronan Farrow: It is not the same law school. The esteemed Michael Cohen obviously had a very different kind of legal background.
Preet Bharara: You went to a law school in New Haven?
Ronan Farrow: A small law school in New Haven, yes. That’s correct.
Preet Bharara: Did you also decide to mitigate the sort of arrogance of your quick climb by addressing your fellow students at Yale as well?
Ronan Farrow: I did not. I think they actually would have, like, come at me with pitchforks if I had tried to do that. Our commencement speaker was Hillary Clinton, fellow alum.
Preet Bharara: What happened to her?
Ronan Farrow: She’s in the woods in Chappaqua.
Preet Bharara: Don’t [?write letters, guys]. So, let’s start with your new book, “War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence”, which is a look at foreign policy in the United States of America. Why did you write this book?
Ronan Farrow: I had been a little guy at the bottom of the totem pole at the State Department, working for a larger than life diplomat named Richard Holbrooke, who had been my mentor of some years. I’d worked for him on and off for eight years and saw firsthand, even during the Obama administration, the way in which there was a shrinking space for our peacemakers and negotiators, and how, especially in the years since 9/11, more and more of the development and diplomacy work that was once the domain of professionals just devoted to that, was run out of the Pentagon and the CIA. And I saw it firsthand because I was in Afghanistan when the Obama administration was reviewing our [?posture] [00:12:52] there, a pretty acute example of a policy process overtaken by soldiers and spies. And those are great public servants, and this is not to denigrate the men and women in the intelligence and military communities, but what I began to uncover as I dug into this was a really systemic problem, where we’ve sidelined our diplomats, and there’s no room for any voices in the room except the military and intelligence voices.
Preet Bharara: When did we start sidelining our diplomats?
Ronan Farrow: So, right now—and a lot of the book is devoted to this—the Trump administration is laying waste to the State Department and [crosstalk] diplomacy.
Preet Bharara: It’s been accelerated.
Ronan Farrow: Vastly accelerated. I mean, you see all these headlines talking about the purge of the State Department, the war on the State Department. And very often, those headlines are accompanied by a word like “unprecedented”. And I think that’s not quite right. It’s a new extreme. But actually, there’s plenty of precedent that we can learn from if we care to. And one example I talk about is after the Cold War, the Clinton administration came in on the platform of “It’s the economy, stupid”, and of refocusing on domestic priorities. And we ended up cutting diplomacy and development by 30 percent over the course of the ‘90s. And you can see very clearly the consequences there. We shuttered embassies around the world. The embassies that were left standing were undermanned and under-budgeted. We closed two government agencies that in retrospect, turned out to be about crucial priorities, information and arms control. And we were left without the diplomatic capacity we so desperately needed on 9/11.
Preet Bharara: Why did everyone go along with that?
Ronan Farrow: You know, you listen to Warren Christopher in the first Clinton term defending these cuts on the Hill, and it sounds almost exactly the Rex Tillerson defending them today, or I should say, up until recently. Obviously, poor Rex is no longer with us.
Preet Bharara: No longer there. Right.
Ronan Farrow: He gives one of his last and most candid interviews in the job in this book, in which he puts a lot of blame on the White House for a lot of this stuff, and talks very colorfully about his fights with this administration. But the rationale you hear every time political rhetoric is deployed that denigrates and seeks to downsize diplomacy is, we can do the same work, but leaner. The system’s not working. And to be sure, Preet, I’m really careful in this book not to say that the State Department is perfect. I worked there. I know it’s not perfect. It is a slow-moving, ossified bureaucracy. It’s got all sorts of problems. But every living Secretary of the State went on the record for this book. And pretty much to a one, they agree at the very least that there are serious problems with the way in which the system is being torn down rather than reformed.
Preet Bharara: Isn’t it part of the problem—this is true of a lot of government agencies that do good work—their good work is invisible. And so, the average person, they can feel it if you cut the Police Department and they see fewer cops on the beat.
Ronan Farrow: Mm-hmm.
Preet Bharara: Or the 9/11 response time goes down. But the average American doesn’t feel it if you close an embassy in South America.
Ronan Farrow: But remember, that embassy in South America is also the embassy that saves you if you get held hostage in that country. It’s the people who screen visa applicants to keep our country safe from terrorists. A lot of that work is still done out of the Consular Department at the State Department. This is unglamorous work. You’re right that it’s invisible. But it does have a tangible effect on the day-to-day lives of Americans. And for any American who travels anywhere, it is the work of diplomats that most acutely informs the way any non-American views us. And right now, we’re seeing an era beginning to dawn in which China is doubling down on spending on peacemaking and diplomacy, and rapidly filling the spaces that we’re leaving empty. So, we’re surrendering a lot of profile and a lot of influence.
Preet Bharara: Are there particular places going forward where you think we’re especially at risk because of the thinning out of the ranks?
Ronan Farrow: Yeah. I mean, look, I talk about looming challenges in Iran, in North Korea. I profile a lot of the experts who have been involved in the various attempts at diplomacy with North Korea over the years in this book. And to a one, I think what they say is you can get played if you barrel into a meeting of that type and give them what they want without embedding it in a really careful strategy. And when we last made a run at the North Korea problem under Bush, we had a designated unit of subject matter experts who really knew the pressure points. And it’s not quite right to say that they were a total failure, you know? They really made inroads in our rapport with China about this issue, which is gonna be a crucial lever if we want to get out of this, and on a whole other—a lot of other fronts. Right now, we’re seeing an abandonment of that kind of commitment to expertise, wholesale.
Preet Bharara: And do you think that’s sort a part and parcel of the Trump philosophy, that expertise doesn’t matter so much? We can put someone who has no idea what the Energy Department is as Secretary of Energy, etc.?
Ronan Farrow: I’ll put it in the words of the whistleblowers I talked to in this book. One after another, the really, in an anguished way, talk about the abandonment and denigration of people who devote their lives to serving and deeply informing themselves about these issues.
Preet Bharara: So, if Mike Pompeo, who looks to be on the path to becoming the next Secretary of State, were to read your book, what’s the most important thing he would want the next head of the State Department to read and to learn from your book?
Ronan Farrow: I would encourage him to read the personal stories of the diplomats who were purged from the State Department in the early days of the Trump administration.
Preet Bharara: Why?
Ronan Farrow: Because I think when you look at, for instance, one guy I profile, Tom Countrymen, who was our top official on arms control.
Preet Bharara: Very patriotic name.
Ronan Farrow: You know, I think I say, if it were a work of fiction, it would be annoying to call him Tom Countryman.
Preet Bharara: Right.
Ronan Farrow: And he, to me, embodies a lot of the misunderstandings that diplomats face. They get accused of being these dusty bureaucrats who get nothing done, and in fact, you look at a guy like Tom Countryman, and he spent decades in the most dangerous places on earth, giving up opportunities to get paid a whole lot more. He could have been in the private sector. He’s a smart, capable guy. Putting his family in danger and giving up a stable life to serve the country and to become the best expert and asset to our government that he could be.
Preet Bharara: Yeah, we had Michael [?McFall] on the show. It’s not an easy life, being a diplomat in a foreign country.
Ronan Farrow: Yeah.
Preet Bharara: Particularly when we’re adversaries.
Ronan Farrow: And when you look at a guy like that, who has been sidelined and fired, and whose expertise has been denigrated at a time when literally, that set of expertise is—
Preet Bharara: Most needed.
Ronan Farrow: Most needed. This is what we need as we confront these rising nuclear challenges. I would hope that Mike Pompeo, as a compassionate person, would reflect on the importance of this workforce and the extent to which it needs defending and restoring right now.
Preet Bharara: So, how are we gonna reverse it? You write in the book, in reciting a statistic that’s jarring, that in addition to diplomats being decimated, the number of new recruits is down 26 percent. So, that’s people who are deciding whether or not to go into the diplomatic corps, into the State Department. They’re saying, you know what? I got other things I can do instead. How do you reverse that?
Ronan Farrow: The talent flow is drying up, and there’s no way around the fact that that can’t be fixed overnight. You know, Colin Powell says we’re tearing the guts out of the State Department, and it’s mortgaging your future, is his quote. And the reason for that is there’s a generational impact. If you staunch the flow of the diplomats who would be tomorrow’s ambassadors, the ambassadors 10, 20 years from now. That will take time to fix. But I think that what I take away from that is that we need to start all the more urgently.
Preet Bharara: Separate and apart from the book, I want to get to the writing that you have done that got you the Pulitzer Prize recently. First, let’s begin sort of where you began, your background. What was it like growing up in the house of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen?
Ronan Farrow: So, I count myself as really lucky, as tumultuous as my childhood was in a lot of ways, with a fair amount of pain and trauma. My mom did this incredibly brave, altruistic thing. It may be foolish, may be a moonshot, but she really wanted to save lives in the most literal way she could, and adopted individuals who were really selected for being as unlikely to be adopted as possible. People who were older, who had radical physical disabilities and psychological handicaps, and who had endured unthinkable abuse and poverty. And I think that when all is said and done, I look back on my childhood and feel gratitude for having had this profound sense of public service inculcated into me. And it was impossible to avoid a sense of perspective with the kinds of siblings I had.
Preet Bharara: Do you feel a push towards public service?
Ronan Farrow: Yeah, I do. I mean, I consider what I try to do with the stories I tell to be a form of public service, if I’m doing it right.
Preet Bharara: And does that come from your mother?
Ronan Farrow: Yeah, I think it does. I think it comes from my mother. I think it comes from the bravery of my siblings. And it’s the old comic book trope of “with power comes responsibility.” And I don’t know that I had power, but I was fortunate in the hand I was dealt.
Preet Bharara: Let me ask you this question in a broad way, so you can answer it how you like. You learned some things from your mother and some push to public service from your mother. What if anything about how you go about furthering your career and engaging in the world comes from Woody Allen?
Ronan Farrow: You know, I saw from a very early age just how much power a certain echelon of men in this country commands, how if you are wealthy enough and connected enough, you can profoundly distort the media cycle and profoundly shame and retaliate against a vulnerable women, and particularly women who would speak out against you, and even really manipulate the judicial and legal process. And those were all kind of latent pieces of understanding that I think I bring to a lot of my reporting, which has been for years about various forms of the abuse of power.
Preet Bharara: Have you ever had this out with Woody Allen directly?
Ronan Farrow: Directly enough. You know, we were in touch for much of my childhood, and I had supervised visitations, which was sort of a concession that had to be made to prevent my sister from seeing him. Judges always kept him away from my sister because there was some credible evidence that he had molested there. And there’s lot of court findings that are really astonishing how incriminating they are.
Preet Bharara: And do you believe that to be true?
Ronan Farrow: Oh, absolutely. Look, I’m skeptical. I’m a journalist. To the extent that you can ever heavily corroborate this kind of a claim, it’s frankly astonishing that there weren’t repercussions at the time, and that really is down to a powerful guy who distorted the process. You know, everything from multiple eyewitnesses who had no interest in making this up, to the consistency of her story, to the way in which he literally was hiring spooks to go after law enforcement officials. These are all parts of a playbook that you still see deployed in sexual assault cases involving high profile guys. And I think, as much as much any fan out there desperately wants to not believe these kinds of allegations when you care about a person’s body of work, you can imagine I myself, being personally connected to the guy, desperately wanted to not believe this. It’s pretty hard to escape that at the very least, there should be a tremendous cloud of suspicion over this guy, and he should never have been allowed near other children.
Preet Bharara: Let’s then jump from that to the work you did for the New Yorker, that frankly, from the perspective of a lot of people, have opened the floodgates for people to talk about, expose, take action with respect to sexual abuse by powerful men. When did you think to begin writing about or investigating Harvey Weinstein?
Ronan Farrow: I had been sort of cornered into writing a column about reporting on sexual assault and abuse issues and what the ethical responsibility of outlets was in talking about Woody Allen. And that came about, interestingly, because of changes in the media landscape. So, the Hollywood Reporter wrote a sort of puff piece cover story about Woody Allen. And because the climate had changed so much, they immediately started getting blowback from all these feminist bloggers and new forces in the media landscape that just hadn’t existed at the time when my sister first made the allegations that she made.
Preet Bharara: What did change in the climate? Because this is important to the unfolding of the #MeToo story and how social change happens. What was different in the world and in the air?
Ronan Farrow: There were more women in power, for one thing. There were more platforms, which makes it harder for powerful publicists to have an iron grip on, you get 60 Minutes, you get the cover of Time, you get the cover of Newsweek, and you’re done. That’s the narrative. You can’t do that anymore. So, as much as there are a lot of costs to the new media landscape, in terms of justice and accountability, I think overall, it’s been a really good thing, and there are a lot of new voices you didn’t see before. Now, one consequence of that was that they got all this blowback, and Janice Min, again, part of a newer generation of women editors who was running the Hollywood Reporter at the time, actually came to me and said, “Look, I want to have an incisive look at how journalists should cover this. What do we do? And I very carefully wrote back saying, “Look, this is personal for me. However, this is how I assess the evidence to be.” And I wrapped it up in the context of how I was also struggling to cover the Bill Cosby allegations incisively.All of this was in a timeframe where women were coming forward and still very much not being heard. You’ll recall the reactions to the Cosby allegations were split down the middle, and one half was op eds talking about the importance of his cultural legacy. And I think the tenor of the reaction has changed so vastly that we forget sometimes how far we’ve come. And so, I had kind of taken this stand on behalf of my sister and on behalf of the issue. I had gotten plenty of blowback for it, but I felt confident that I had done the right thing. And because of that, I think sources in stories about sexual abuse, which was sort of this niche area of coverage that had been ignored by the mainstream media to a great extent, began coming to me more and more.
Preet Bharara: Because they trusted you.
Ronan Farrow: Yeah. I think to an extent, that was the case.
Preet Bharara: So, you’re getting these allegations of harassment and other misconduct, and they’re coming to you. How did you investigate them? How did you get people to tell you more than they were initially prepared to tell you, and how did it ultimately lead to the story you wrote about Harvey Weinstein?
Ronan Farrow: Well, very rapidly, it became focused on Harvey Weinstein because one of the first sources to approach me, and I can say this because she’s publicly said it, was Rose McGowan. And it wasn’t just about her, even at that early point. Very rapidly, it turned into a group of many sources. But I do give her tremendous credit that she agreed to go on camera and on the record, and suggested that I follow other leads on it. And—
Preet Bharara: Did she suggest other leads, or did they come to you?
Ronan Farrow: She did. The main name that she suggested actually was a person whose story I corroborated really heavily with multiple people she had told at the time, what we call legally prompt outcry witnesses in a case. She decided ultimately, that woman, that she did not want to be on the record or a background source, and to this day, I think, has not told her story.
Preet Bharara: And the reason for that was fear of retaliation, or?
Ronan Farrow: I hope people by now understand that every source in this body of reporting faced intimidation, retaliation, fears about their physical safety, because you have to remember, one of the things I exposed in the course of these stories was that Harvey Weinstein, through a cadre of powerful intermediaries, including David Boies, the high profile attorney, was hiring basically muscle and intelligence agents that were combat ready and were using false identities to kind of—
Preet Bharara: To dig up dirt.
Ronan Farrow: —insinuate themselves into people’s lives and dig up dirt, yeah.
Preet Bharara: And intimidate them.
Ronan Farrow: Yeah.
Preet Bharara: You say in your New Yorker article, one of the first ones, that sort of struck me, that you had spoken with, I think you said 16 current and former executives and assistants to Harvey Weinstein. That’s a lot of people who were close to him.
Ronan Farrow: A lot of people. And in that same story, you’re dealing with more than a dozen women. It just reached a critical mass of too many good people who were brave enough to speak, saying enough. And the landscape changed, and this loops back to our earlier conversation about changes in the media. It was still tremendously difficult for both those secondary sources, the employees who spoke, and also for the women themselves to envision a world in which they would be heard when they spoke on this point.
Preet Bharara: And believed.
Ronan Farrow: And believed, right. It seemed almost unthinkable.
Preet Bharara: You know, I presume that everyone is familiar with the allegations in your reporting. We haven’t talked about what basically the central allegations against Harvey Weinstein are.
Ronan Farrow: I think the core of the allegations are pretty simple to understand, and they’re laid out in excruciating detail that I don’t need to relive on behalf of those women, who I think are glad that they can leave it behind. But we’re talking about multiple allegations of sexual assault and rape that were broken for the first time in our story in the New Yorker. But I think both for my reporting and for the reporting of the Times and other publications, the important thing here wasn’t that Harvey Weinstein did these gross and criminal things. It was that we were uncovering vast systems that were not exclusive to Harvey Weinstein or to Hollywood. These are the kinds of tactics, the hiring of goons to intimidate people, the manipulation of legal processes, and corruption involved with currying favor with law enforcement officials. These are tools that you see deployed in industry after industry by powerful people.
Preet Bharara: These are all enablers.
Ronan Farrow: Yeah.
Preet Bharara: I mean, most of the crimes that we investigated at the U.S. Attorney’s office that were significant were things that people knew about for a long time.
Ronan Farrow: So, what do you think of Cyrus Vance’s role in this?
Preet Bharara: Whose podcast is this anyway? We’ll get to Cyrus Vance in a moment.
Ronan Farrow: [Laughs] Don’t cut that part, Preet.
Preet Bharara: I’m not gonna cut that part. So, let’s talk about the enablers and let’s talk about the systems. The executives and the assistants around Harvey Weinstein. When you interviewed them and they finally agreed to talk to you, were they embarrassed that they had been quiet? Were they embarrassed that they had been enabling? Were they seeking to mitigate their silence from before?
Ronan Farrow: I think some of the blame meted out to employees of the Weinstein Company and Miramax is overinflated, and they’re demonized unfairly. I also think some of the blame is probably very fair, and I hope that as future people in companies where they’re seeing behavior being covered up, derive a clear lesson from that, that speaking is really a lifeline for people affected by that kind of bad behavior.
Preet Bharara: Let’s talk about the lawyers, people like David Boies. To what degree do you think they are to blame, and what did they do that offends you in all of this?
Ronan Farrow: You know, I want to be careful about what I say beyond what we’ve reported. I think we’ve been very clear about David Boies’s role in this. And it was through a variety of law firms. But one of them was David Boies’s firm that essentially spies, private intelligence agents, were hired to dig up dirt on and intimidate women with allegations and reports following the Harvey Weinstein story.
Preet Bharara: And do you think the fact that that was done as just a blanket matter is immoral, unethical, wrong?
Ronan Farrow: I wouldn’t say that there’s absolutely no place in our society for the profession of private investigation. I do think that there’s absolutely no place for the legal profession, especially at the elite level occupied by some of these lawyers, aiding and abetting the intimidation and harassment of people.
Preet Bharara: I agree with that.
Ronan Farrow: I think there is a lot of criminal implications that are correctly being looked at now in multiple jurisdictions. And I think ethically, it’s unacceptable, and the bar should look closely at why we tolerate that kind of behavior if you’re a fancy enough lawyer.
Preet Bharara: So, there’s a particular woman whose story you tell, and that intersects with both Harvey Weinstein and some of the other lawyers and the Manhattan DA, who you mentioned, Ambra Battilana Gutierrez. What happened with her, and what do you think should have happened to Harvey Weinstein in connection with his conduct towards her?
Ronan Farrow: So, Harvey Weinstein met a young Italian model at an event that he was producing.
Preet Bharara: Right. This is Ambra.
Ronan Farrow: Ambra. And the long and short of it is, he invited her to a meeting at his office, which she assumed would be a business meeting. And by her account, he then groped her. I should point out, also by his account, he then groped her, because one of the pieces of evidence that I uncovered and released for the first time was a recording made in the course of an NYPD sting operation that had been suppressed for several years, and in which Harvey Weinstein very clearly admitted multiple times to this.
Preet Bharara: She then does something that a lot of people did not do. She goes to the police.
Ronan Farrow: Ambra Gutierrez is a tremendously brave and savvy person. And she did, as you say, immediately go to the authorities.
Preet Bharara: And what happened when she went to authorities initially?
Ronan Farrow: So, she ended up with the Special Victims division of the NYPD, and they began to plan a sting operation fairly rapidly where she would go back to collect evidence.
Preet Bharara: So, she goes back. She’s wearing a wire.
Ronan Farrow: She went back wearing a wire. She was terrified to do it. I really do take her at her word when she says she was motivated to help other people. She didn’t want another person in that same situation. And she didn’t have to do that. She did.
Preet Bharara: And that recording has been made public.
Ronan Farrow: [?Ambra] made the recording public. And I can’t divulge the ways in which I got that recording, but I will say that there were a lot of people who were angry about the fact that that recording was covered up. Cyrus Vance had the recording, among a lot of other pieces of evidence.
Preet Bharara: Right. So there was a discussion, we learned from your reporting and other sources, that there was a thought about prosecuting Harvey Weinstein on the strength of her testimony, Ambra’s testimony, and the recording. That prosecution never happened.
Ronan Farrow: So, this is really the crux of all the systems that I’m talking about. So, I’m glad you raised this. If we’re going in this deep on this issue, this is a case that people should understand. They had this incredibly damning piece of evidence. And actually, the NYPD, partly because they were so angry at the way this played out, did a survey of other similar groping cases, where they found that on far, far less evidence, most of them resulted in arrests. And yet, for some reason, in the Harvey Weinstein case, they had the recording of him admitting to it; multiple prompt outcry witnesses; they had her testimony, which never changed for a second; they had officers on the force who found her extremely credible. And for some reason, after deliberating, the DA’s office decided they would do nothing about this.
Preet Bharara: But why do you think that is? Do you think it’s because they were worried about losing?
Ronan Farrow: I’m not gonna speculate about the state of mind of Cyrus Vance when he made this decision, but what I did lay out in excruciating detail in my stories is what happened behind the scenes, which is that Harvey Weinstein hired a powerful intelligence firm, K2, which is run by Jules Kroll, who’s a legendary magnate in that space of private investigations.
Preet Bharara: Yeah. Everyone knows K2 if you’re in the business.
Ronan Farrow: And he actually hired, for the purposes of the Battilana case, both K2, which was charged with digging up dirt on her, and Kroll, which was Jules Kroll’s previous firm, which was charged with destroying any evidence she had. So, what they did is they hired Italian subcontractors, who obtained information about her past that they thought would be unflattering and damaging to her credibility. And through a number of backchannel communications, they basically barraged the DA’s office with this. And one thing that’s really important to point out, Preet, is these aren’t random people from the private sector calling. There is a revolving door of people leaving that DA’s office and going into high-paid jobs at private investigation firms. So, literally you have the guy who is your colleague a hot few minutes ago, essentially—there’s supposed to be a cool down period, but it’s not very long—calling you and saying, “Hey, you know, this woman is a hooker.” And David Boies on the record said, “She’s a hooker. She’s a hooker,” which he was not happy that we quoted that. But we were very fair to him, and we were very observant of ground rules. And I think it’s disgusting how that played out. I think it reveals a whole lot about the way powerful people can manipulate the justice process.
Preet Bharara: Do you think it’s odd that DAs who have to stand for election take money from criminal defense lawyers?
Ronan Farrow: I’m glad you raised that, because that’s another thing we reported on. Obviously, Cyrus Vance was getting a whole lot of money from several of the lawyers involved.
Preet Bharara: But in most counties where DAs have to be elected, the people that they know are lawyers, and many of them are defense lawyers, and it’s kind of icky, isn’t it?
Ronan Farrow: It’s extremely icky. And I think he—Vance in particular has made statements saying he’ll put more restrictions on the money.
Preet Bharara: I think he said he stopped. I think he said he stopped.
Ronan Farrow: But at the time of this case, you had Elkan Abramowitz, who was one powerful celebrity lawyer, and David Boies, who was another on the Weinstein team, giving a lot of money to his campaigns. And everyone involved says, “Oh, that’s incidental. It doesn’t matter. It was business as usual. A lot of people gave him money.” But if it’s business as usual, I would put the question to anyone listening, should it be?
Preet Bharara: Yeah. Look, well, I don’t think so. I had a different position. I was appointed, so I didn’t have to worry about running for office. It’s an endemic corruption that you have in all elective office. We have it with congressmen, we have it with state legislators who have to get money from people whose interests they’re gonna be deciding. It seems particularly upsetting in the narrow category of law enforcement, so I think it’s particularly odious there, because law enforcement folks are supposed to be independent, but we do have a system in which they’re elected. So the question is then, you know, how do you get elected? How do you get the money to run campaigns? I don’t have an answer to that. But I think at a minimum, DAs should consider and should decide not to take money from people who will have interests of clients before those DA’s offices.
Ronan Farrow: I think that’s right, and I just want to draw the distinction as people judge this however they may—look, I don’t level accusations of corruption. I just relate the facts about what played out behind the scenes. There is a big difference when we talk about law enforcement between what the DA’s office did here and what the NYPD did here. And you can take it with a grain, because NYPD sources may be bent out of shape, and therefore—
Preet Bharara: There’s often warring—
Ronan Farrow: Sure. Sure.
Preet Bharara: —between the prosecutors and the agents or the cops.
Ronan Farrow: But it is striking in this case that veteran cop after veteran cop looks at this fact pattern and says, “That’s corruption.” And I won’t use that word, but they do.
Preet Bharara: Look, I’ve said on the show before and I’ll say again a couple things that are important to make clear. One is, Cy Vance was a colleague of mine. We worked together when he was the—and he still is the DA, and I was the U.S. Attorney. We sometimes battled against each other for cases. We also often had our folks work together. I know him to be a person that has integrity. I’ve never seen him do anything that I’m personally aware of that showed a lack of integrity. There is a difference—and again, I’m also not presuming to know what went on here, and some of the things that you reported on are very troubling. But there is a difference between corruption and having cold feet. And I made it a policy a long time ago, born from the time that I was a U.S. Attorney, when other people, based on incomplete information, took my head off and took the heads off of people in my office for not bringing a case that they thought, based on press clippings, was worthy of being brought. And I’ll tell you that in every case that we made a decision not to charge, it was based on the facts and the evidence. We were more aggressive than some, and brought some cases that we ended up losing, because we thought they were worth bringing. But there is this distinction between worrying that you’re gonna take on a significant defendant, whether it’s a politician or a powerful in industry, and lose in a way that’s humiliating to your office, versus quid pro quo. I’m not saying that either one of those things is terrific. They’re both not good.
Ronan Farrow: I also wouldn’t draw so hard a distinction between those two things. You’re absolutely right in how you render what many sources around the DA’s office told me was the logic. And I’m not saying that these decisions are simple, or that the way in which those decisions were made was without merit. But I think the appearance of corruption was sufficiently embedded in this that it does merit further scrutiny.
Preet Bharara: Yeah, look, it was totally exacerbated by the relationships between and among people, contributions made. But just—I want to just say for the record, I don’t know what happened in that case. I don’t judge other—you know, given that I had a similar job, it could be that it was a terrible decision. It could be that it was a close call, that some people thought one way and other people thought the other way. I know there are cases that my office didn’t bring that if you asked some FBI agents, they would say, “They wimped out and they should have brought them.” It is true, and I love law enforcement. I love the cops we worked with, and the FBI agents we worked with, and I had the police commissioner on the show not too long ago. But the decision about what will work in court and what is sufficient evidence to charge a crime is in the province of the prosecutor.
Ronan Farrow: What would you tell Cyrus Vance as he weathers criticism about this?
Preet Bharara: I think he should talk about why he made the decision he did, which is easier said than done. There’s lot of cases where a prosecutor decides to bring a case, and you can judge it. It’s in open court, and you can look at the evidence, and you can criticize it for being overly harsh or overly weak, and you can see the quality of the witnesses, and you can take them to task. And there’s a public airing, because the process has begun. But it’s a little bit more complicated when you’ve chosen not to bring the case. So, for example, it’s very hard for the FBI or the Justice Department to show the purity of the decision not to charge Hillary Clinton. It’s going to be very difficult for Bob Mueller and others to show the purity of the decision to charge, hypothetically, Jared Kushner, or to make a referral on Donald Trump. It’s much harder to asses the quality of the decision not to do something than to do something, because it’s the nature of the game. Now, prosecutors can get in trouble too, right, if they talk too much about a decision not to prosecute. That’s precisely what got Jim Comey in trouble. When you make the decision to decline, and we declined on significant people, including the mayor of the city of New York and the governor of New York. But it becomes difficult to explain fully in a transparent way to the public why you didn’t make a particular decision when you owe it to the system and to the guidelines of the department, and also to the presumed innocence of the party you chose not to charge to keep your mouth shut. So it’s kind of a quandary.
Ronan Farrow: Do you think outside inquiries into what played out in that office are justified?
Preet Bharara: I think when you have a situation where a decision is sufficiently under a cloud that you have to worry about—credibly have to worry about whether there was some bad, nefarious reason for doing something or not doing something, that there should be rigorous scrutiny of it. And if you’ve put yourself in that position because of relationships or because of donations or anything else, then you’ve a little bit made that bed. And I think people are getting smarter about that, and I think there’s been an awakening on the part of DAs about all that. I think they’re completely legitimate questions to be asked, and there are perhaps ways of handling it better so that people have faith and confidence in the decisions that are being made. Again, I’m not proclaiming that I know what happened in that case. I’m just trying to give a little bit—and I see, by the way, you’ve turned the tables completely on this podcast.
Ronan Farrow: [Laughs]
Preet Bharara: Misconduct that Harvey Weinstein had engaged in, if journalists had sort of sniffed out that misconduct ten years ago, do you think it could have been uncovered then?
Ronan Farrow: If journalistic outlets had showed me courage earlier, the story could have broken a lot sooner.
Preet Bharara: That’s a pretty damning indictment.
Ronan Farrow: Yeah. I think it is pretty damning. And it’s one reason why I’m so grateful as I kind of in a state of dazed shock survey the impact of the story, I just feel relieved, because there were so many obstacles set against it ever breaking. A whole variety of systems that came crashing down to stop me, to stop them.
Preet Bharara: What’s an example of something that tried to stop you?
Ronan Farrow: There’s a lot of great examples of that that I think I’ll be able to talk about in the future, Preet.
Preet Bharara: Does that mean you have in the works pieces talking about the efforts to obstruct or cover up what you were discovering?
Ronan Farrow: I think it is very clear that there’s more to be said about the way these stories get covered up for as long as they do. And I hope it’s clear to anyone who’s familiar with my work that when I see some sort of corruption or injustice, I don’t stop. So yeah, I think in a lot of ways, I’ll be continuing to chase the concept you just alluded to.
Preet Bharara: Before I let you go, I must say, you know a lot of things about what’s important to justice and seeking truth. When are you gonna run for office?
Ronan Farrow: I have never considered running for office, and that’s not a [?feint]. I’m not ambitious in that particular way. I’ve never lived my life with that intention. I think our campaign finance is so broken right now that I don’t know that I have the stones to confront that broken system that requires so much fundraising and so much entanglement with special interests. I know that we need good people who are willing to do that, and I’m flattered that anyone would ask me, but I don’t think that’s me.
Preet Bharara: Okay. Fair enough. Ronan Farrow, thank you so much for being on the show.
Ronan Farrow: Thank you for everything you do, Preet.
Preet Bharara: Thanks.
Ronan Farrow: I’m a fan.
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