INTELLIGENCE MATTERS – PREET BHARARA

CORRESPONDENT: MICHAEL MORELL

PRODUCER: OLIVIA GAZIS, jamie benson

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Preet, welcome to Intelligence Matters. It is–

              PREET BHARARA:

Thanks. Good to be here.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

–great to have you on the show. There is tons to talk about, so I want to jump right in. We are speaking the day after Special Counsel Bob Mueller testified before two Congressional committees. We don’t normally do hot takes (LAUGH) here on Intelligence Matters–

              PREET BHARARA:

Good. Because I don’t give them.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

–but we are going to make an exception today, because I think there’s a tremendous amount of interest in this. So I want to start by asking you or your single biggest takeaway from his testimony yesterday.

              PREET BHARARA:

So I watched all the testimony live before both committees. I and you are among, I guess, the 3% of the (LAUGH) American public who’s read the whole report, although I think, as we’ve discussed offline, you’re a Volume One guy. I’m a Volume Two guy.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

What does the mean?

              PREET BHARARA:

So Volume One relates to mostly the investigation that had to do with Russian interference with the election and whether or not there was a conspiracy or some other kind of back and forth between the Trump campaign and the Russians with respect to the 2016 election.

Volume Two is concerned mostly with efforts to obstruct. And there’s a lot of evidence there. As everyone now knows, very famously, Robert Mueller would not make a determination as to whether or not the crime of obstruction was committed, but he wouldn’t say it wasn’t committed, either. With respect to the first volume, your favorite, he did make an absolute clear determination that there was insufficient evidence to say that there was a conspiracy between members of the Trump campaign and anyone else outside the country.

To me, in essence, we’re both in punditry and in journalism, there’s always two things that people talk about with respect to some blockbuster event, like yesterday’s was heralded. One is the sort of theatrics, optics, and all those other words that former, you know, people in the CIA and in law enforcement don’t like and don’t like to think about. And the other is the substance.

And I’ll leave it to others, as they have been doing, you know, to give sort of a movie critique of how Bob Mueller looked and acted and how quickly he answered questions. To me, the biggest takeaway is, notwithstanding any of that, and where lots and lots of people, in both the Intel Committee and on the Judiciary Committee, came loaded for bear for Robert Mueller, who some of them have accused of not being, you know, as quick on the uptake as he might have been.

Didn’t undermine, to my mind, a single fact, a single conclusion at all in the report. You know, there’s a lot of bluster about who may or may not have been biased and what happened with this FBI agent named Peter Strzok and the text messages, all of which I think Bob Mueller defended very well.

And so what you’re left with when you put aside the TV images and some of the speechifying on the part of members of Congress who were trying to make their point, sometimes to the public, sometimes, as we like to say these days, to an audience of one. You had one member of Congress who I thought was, you know, particularly tough on Bob Mueller. And you discover that he’s on the short list to replace Dan Coats as the DNI. And then you wonder, “Well, was that for illumination or was that for a job interview?”

The overwhelming takeaway for me is that the Mueller Report itself, the thing that Bob Mueller did not want to amplify in any way or interpret in any way or gild in any way, that report stands, I think, as strong as it did before he testified.

And if the goal of the hearings on the part of some people was to cast doubt on those conclusions and to cast doubt on really serious, sets of facts relating to obstruction, even in Volume One, although not sufficient evidence declared to state that there was a crime of conspiracy, lots of openness on the part of people on the Trump campaign to take dirt from a foreign power. And not just any foreign power, but a significant — some say the most significant — adversary.

All of those facts stand. And I think in the aftermath of the hearing, we should get away a little bit from the optics and how, you know, someone sounded and who scored points, and look at what those conclusions are and have people act on them.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

So nothing changed from a legal perspective yesterday?

              PREET BHARARA:

You know, and I’m pretty open-minded about these things. I like to see where there may have been some flaw, you know, some fly in the ointment. There was one thing. You know, it’s odd, right, this Volume Two. And we can spend time talking about Volume One also.

This pronouncement that the president is not exonerated. And there’s a reasonable point to be made that, and some members did, whether there’s a legal dent made in the argument. And I get it. This idea that prosecutors like me, like I used to be, you either bring a case or you don’t bring a case. And when you don’t bring a case, you don’t say, you know, with great fanfare, “I’m not exoner–” you know, if I investigate Michael Morell– we never did that, by the way.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Good. Glad to know that.

              PREET BHARARA:

I don’t know what they’re doing now. There could be all sorts of shenanigans at this podcast —

              MICHAEL MORELL:

But Jim Comey did this with Hillary Clinton. Right?

              PREET BHARARA:

He did. You know, and you can get in trouble. And it’s a weird thing. Now, people have accused Bob Mueller of inverting the burden of proof. The burden of proof in this country is it always lies on the side of the government. We used to say when we went to court, you know, we would tell prosecutors to say, “The burden of proof always rests on the government’s table.”

And we welcome that burden. And we have met that burden. And you never shift it. A, because it’s not right, and B, because you’ll lose on appeal. And so the argument is a little bit that Mueller has done that by taking great pains to say, “Not exonerated.”

I think there’s a good response to that. You know, the only thing I would say, not to be critical of Bob Mueller, but I don’t think he gave as full an answer as he might have to that. Unlike Michael Morell or Preet Bharara or anyone else, the President of the United States, as we’ve now all learned, and maybe didn’t all know before, stands literally in a unique position in the country.

He’s the only person in the country, by virtue of his position, based on an Office of Legal Counsel memorandum and interpretation, who cannot be charged. So it is against this backdrop of a president having basically immunity while he is in office, who is investigated by the former FBI director and Special Counsel Bob Mueller, who was otherwise bending over backwards to not only be in line with that opinion and not charge a sitting president, but not even be prepared to say, no matter how much evidence there was, that a crime was committed. Not even make that statement.

And my sense is, given how much evidence there was on the obstruction side, that as a sort of a counterweight to that, and perhaps an indirect signal to future prosecutors after the president-elect leaves office, and possibly to Congress that has the impeachment power, he did not want it to look like a blessing of the conduct. To make sure clear that unlike in Volume One, with respect to conspiracy, it was not an exoneration.

And I appreciate that that’s peculiar, and I appreciate that that’s not done in ordinary circumstances. But the particular position of the president, because of the OLC opinion and everything else, renders him in a unique position as well.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

So Preet, assume for a moment that you could indict a sitting president. Based on the facts in Volume Two, what would you as a prosecutor have done? Would you have indicted based on those facts?

              PREET BHARARA:

So I’m of two minds on how to answer that question. So there’s this famous letter that a thousand former prosecutors signed. I am not a signatory to that document. And it’s not because I don’t agree. I just I don’t like to sign things where there’s voluminous language, and if I disagree with a sentence or two. I also have the good fortune, like you, of having my own voice and my own platform, my own podcast and other places where I can say what I think.

So I don’t know that I agree with every single line in that letter, where the prosecutors say that but for the fact that he’s the president he would be indicted and they all would have indicted. And I would have to go through, and I haven’t really done this chapter and verse, with respect to the ten or 11 instances of potential obstruction that Bob Mueller outlines in volume two.

I think almost without a doubt, with respect to some of those things — and I’d like to see the underlying documents if I were the person in charge — with respect to some of those things there would be an indictment of some counts. Maybe not ten counts. Maybe not 11 counts. But some counts that I would bring, if it was not the president of the United States.

If it was an ordinary person, without doubt. I suppose you make some other considerations, whether or not there’s this OLC opinion, because maybe some of those constitutional considerations come into play but don’t carry the day. And the problem with the OLC opinion is it basically says, as a blanket matter, the Constitution does not permit the indictment of a sitting president.

It may be the case, I’m not saying this is true, that if there’s a very low level crime committed by the president of the United States, one could make the– I’m not making it, so don’t send your letters to me — one could make the argument that it would unnecessarily undermine the president’s ability to carry out his duties, which is one of the points in the OLC opinion. I could see that argument. And maybe you take that into account. But with respect to obstruction of justice of the order and magnitude that’s described in the report, yeah, I think I would.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

So to this point about possibly indicting the president after he leaves office.

              PREET BHARARA:

Yeah.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

And the statute of limitations on obstruction, which is?

              PREET BHARARA:

Five. Five years.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Five years?

              PREET BHARARA:

Yeah.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

If the president has a second term, does that mean that he can’t be indicted?

              PREET BHARARA:

Yeah. So some people have said this is a great campaign slogan (LAUGH) for him in 2020. And may get out the base.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Surely the founders didn’t think that somebody could get away with obstruction of justice.

              PREET BHARARA:

Yeah. Well, the founders also didn’t think that Congress would let someone get away with lots of things that they appear to be letting the president get away with also. And maybe I haven’t found looked far and wide enough. Although common sense would tell you there should be, I found no persuasive legal analysis that says that you should toll the statute of limitations.

In other words, stop it in time for a sitting president who’s committing crimes, the statute of limitations for which would run if he gets reelected. It would seem to be, you know, the height of unfairness and injustice if you get this pass because you’re in office.

And then by virtue of getting elected a second time, the statute of limitations lapses and then you can never be prosecuted. I have not seen someone make an argument that I understand as to why that shouldn’t happen. I think logic and common sense and fairness and justice tell you that you should be able to, even after eight years, because you’ve gotten this luck of the draw.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

So what’s the impact of the attorney general and the deputy attorney general making a formal decision that the president did not obstruct justice on a future indictment?

              PREET BHARARA:

Yes. So that’s a very interesting question that I have thought about and discussed a little bit. And, you know, my answer in part is legal and also political, although I hate to use world political. I don’t mean political in the way that people think of it.

You have an administration that has an Attorney General, Bill Barr, and a particular president. The only way that Donald Trump will not be the president in the next term would be if he gets defeated. I think everyone believes this to be true, unless a third party candidate does what they have never done in the history of the country, or if there’s a last minute primary challenge to Donald Trump and another Republican takes over.

But in all likelihood if the issue is going to be presented with the Democratic president and a Democratic administration’s Attorney General it’ll be the other party. And as you know, decisions get made about what force to give to decisions made by the prior administration. And sometimes, and I know this is a complicated issue, subsequent administrations decide to undertake investigations of the conduct of sometimes even CIA officers.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Right.

              PREET BHARARA:

And some people make the decision, “You know what? That looks a little–” and there’s controversy no matter what you decide. And some people say, “Well, that smacks a little bit of you know, sort of punishing your adversaries,” and you want some continuity and you want to take the country forward. And sometimes doing that kind of thing is not good for the country, even if, you know, there’s a reasonable basis to do an investigation and to hold people who did things that you don’t like in the prior administration, hold them responsible.

So on one hand, if the president has committed these crimes and the evidence is in the hands of a particular United States Attorney, and there’s a new administration, they are not necessarily needed. I think a defense lawyer for the president would rightly say, “What are you talking about?” The attorney general, who ranks higher than everyone else, made a particular statement. Doesn’t have the force of law, I don’t think. And that U.S. Attorneys are bound by.

So, for example, take away the hypothetical. Let’s say we’re not talking about the next administration. Let’s say an enterprising United States Attorney today in the District of Columbia decides, “I’m going to indict the president, because I don’t care about the–” you know, after he leaves office, and everyone else remains in office.

I mean the reason the hypothetical, I was describing a new administration, is you assume it’s not Bill Barr. It would be very odd if Bill Barr remained in office, which wouldn’t happen, but suppose, for an enterprising United States Attorney to say, “I’m bucking what Bill Barr said and I’m going to make the indictment.”

So then you change it and you say, “Well, there’s a new Attorney General.” I think for it to be palatable, and it wouldn’t be palatable to many, many, many people, even in that scenario, you’d have to have I think some kind of pronouncement or evaluation by the next attorney general.

Now, there’s at least one presidential candidate who has essentially said that, “I would have an AG who would be directed to do such a thing.” I think it’s a very fraught question, which is not a popular answer. I know there are a lot of people who want the moment that the president leaves office to be charged because of this evidence. That has costs, too.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Preet, what did you hear Bob Mueller say yesterday about the president’s written answers to the special counsel’s questions?

              PREET BHARARA:

So what I heard was kind of extraordinary, and he was having a back and forth with a member of Congress who asked about the written questions, and said they contained falsehoods. And I don’t have the transcript in front of me, but I think Bob Mueller said something like, “Generally yes.”

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Yes.

              PREET BHARARA:

Which is kind of extraordinary. Now, like, with something else that happened in the hearing that I thought was a huge issue, it appeared that Bob Mueller didn’t mean to say what he said. What it sounded like he was saying. I remember at one point he was asked by Congressman Ted Lieu, and I remember my head turned around when I heard him say it.

Congressman Lieu said something like, “The reason you did not indict was because of the OLC opinion, is that not correct?” And Bob Mueller says, “That’s correct.” Which to me was an indication that he really did believe the president had committed a crime, although he didn’t say it in the report.

And is, you know, somewhat at odds with the report. And that, you know, for Congress not to take some action, it would really be conceding that the president is above the law. And that would, I think, have the big impact, both legally and politically. Then he got to the beginning of the intelligence committee hearing, and he walked it back.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

And he corrected himself. Yeah.

              PREET BHARARA:

He said, “That’s not what I meant to say.”

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Yeah, yeah.

              PREET BHARARA:

I don’t know if this thing about the written answers was that way, because it’s not so clear. He said, “Generally yes.” Generally yes what?

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Yes. Yes.

              PREET BHARARA:

If you look at the whole transcript, he appeared to be endorsing the notion that was put in the question by the Congresswoman that there were a lot of lies in those written answers.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

And if that is the case, then would that possibly open the president up to perjury indictments?

              PREET BHARARA:

I would think so. But then you come up against that same barrier.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Right. Right, right, right.

              PREET BHARARA:

You know, the Office of Legal Counsel.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Right. Preet, is there anything that you have seen that raises questions about whether federal investigators acted inappropriately in starting the investigation into the Trump campaign or during the investigation into the Trump campaign’s interactions with the Russians?

              PREET BHARARA:

I mean I could say, because this was popularized yesterday, Michael, that’s outside of my purview. (LAUGH) With respect to the opening of the investigation, that is actually being looked at by the inspector general and I think, you know, some people don’t like this. It’s also being looked at by U.S. Attorney Durham, because people want to investigate the investigators. It seems like it was all done appropriately. I await the results like everyone else.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

You haven’t seen anything that raises questions in your mind?

              PREET BHARARA:

I haven’t, but I haven’t seen all of it. But I would tend to doubt it. With respect to the rest of it, I mean I think it’s, you know, incredibly well known, because the president refers to it, you know, caustically in tweets from time to time, among the things that you see are FBI Agent Peter Strzok, who send a number of text messages that are unfortunate and contrary to the way you want FBI agents to act, that showed a level of enmity for the president, who was being investigated, that Bob Mueller found to be unacceptable and removed him from the case.

So yeah, that’s bad. Now, the problem is that people don’t understand — and this sounds like a weird thing to say, but just to do a little, quick legal lesson — just because an agent, one of many on a case, behaved in a way that showed a conflict, potentially not necessarily a real conflict but an appearance of a conflict, and/or even behaved unethically, that doesn’t mean that all the evidence of bad conduct and criminal activity evaporates.

It is true from time to time that you’ll– the example I always give is, if somebody shoots somebody and kills them, there’s a homicide investigation, and you have four or five cops or agents on the case. And there’s a lot of evidence of the homicide.

But it turns out that one of the cops or one of the agents misbehaves and does something bad. And maybe doesn’t like the target, the defendant. You take disciplinary action against that person. You make sure that, in a review, nothing that person did affected the outcome or the investigation. Maybe there’ll be motion practice about it. But the killer doesn’t go free because someone misbehaved. And that’s something that people have to keep straight in their mind.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Right, right.

So back to Volume One — which is the Russian interference, and some people call it collusion, other people call it conspiracy. Clearly Bob Mueller has said over and over again that they did not find conspiracy.

              PREET BHARARA:

Right.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Well, just to be clear. Yeah.

              PREET BHARARA:

To be nitpicky. Insufficient evidence to make a case of conspiracy.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

So in the context of Russian interference in our election, what would conspiracy look like? What would something that reaches the bar of conspiracy look like?

              PREET BHARARA:

So it could be a number of things. I mean essentially the law of conspiracy requires a meeting of the minds or an agreement between one or more people to do a thing. And then depending on the particular conspiracy statute, not always, but it usually requires some overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy.

So, let’s say you plan to rob a bank. And you tell me about it, or I have knowledge about it, because I read some notes. And then later, you end up robbing the bank, and maybe even after that, you know, you say, “Hey, I bought you this nice coat,” and I have reason to believe, and maybe I even know outright, that you bought the coat from the bank robbery proceeds.

Am I guilty of conspiracy? Well, on the facts, on the bare facts that I just recited, probably not. I mean if those facts came to our attention, we would look really hard at Preet Bharara in that case, because it seems too cute that I knew about your plan to rob the bank, I didn’t do anything about it and then I benefited from it later, because often people lie about that. And that’s the reason why you do, you know, an investigation.

And what you have here is not that far off from that. I mean obviously it’s much more complicated, but what I’ve described is sort of a parallel of what we have in the Russia investigation. Because it may be, as often happens in life, I helped you in some way. You know, I drove the getaway car, or I gave you the keys to my car, or I provided you with somebody who could be your partner in robbing the bank, all of which things might not be apparent unless you do a deep dive and an investigation. Interview everybody and everything else. But mere knowledge and benefiting after the fact from your robbery probably wouldn’t be a crime of conspiracy.

Now, to take it back to the actual case, if you had foreknowledge and some assistance with respect to the hacking or with respect to when some of the material would be disseminated, assuming that the law allows you to say that that’s a thing of value, you know, these emails that were disseminated, and the dirt that was put forward, and you have evidence of that, you have documentary evidence of that or testimonial evidence of that, then you’re getting much closer to a conspiracy.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Okay. So let’s switch gears from the Mueller investigation to some other issues. Preet, you talk a lot about the importance of the rule of law. It’s a big theme in your book. Couple of questions. What does the rule of law mean in layman’s terms? And how would you assess the health of it today?

              PREET BHARARA:

So everyone likes to say rule of law. People who follow the rule of law. People who undermine the rule of law. It’s one of those phrases that’s like apple pie. Right? And depending on circumstances, it can mean different things to different people.

To me, the rule of law means that, you know, laws are not to be flouted. They’re to be applied equally, whether you’re rich or poor, whether you’re white or black, whether you’re male or female. And that you put the law not only before particular preferences for folks, and without bias towards groups of people, whether people of color or otherwise, but also above politics.

So, one of the great pressures on human beings who are required to interpret the law and enforce the law are things other than what’s fair and just. And they can be things like pressure from a politician, pressure from someone who is inequitable. It can be in the form of a bribe.

There’s all sorts of ways in which the proper path to the right result that should be done fairly and equitably, you know, in a colorblind way and in a politically blind way, can be derailed. And it happens all the time.

And so, you know, the point of the rule of law is to always, if you’re involved in that process and in that industry, if I can call it that, on doing the right thing. To make sure you check your biases at the door. And the result is ordained not by some prior judgment or predisposition or like or dislike for a politician or for a policy or for ambition.

I mean there’s a million vices that can derail you from pursuing the rule of law, but the rule of law means looking at the facts and the evidence and doing what is right, no matter what other people say, because they have, you know, a political preference, a personal preference, or some religious or racial or other bias.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

And so where are we today?

              PREET BHARARA:

So I think it’s challenged. (LAUGH) I think we’re in a period of challenge. Look, every day in police departments and in DA’s offices in cases we don’t necessarily talk about, there are enough pressures as I’ve described on making sure the rule of law is done properly.

You could have a local sheriff who’s trying to get reelected, and because he’s trying to get reelected he might want to look tough on a particular kind of crime, even though discretion would tell you, don’t do that. There are people who think, “I can’t allow this person to get acquitted. I know this person command the crime. They committed the arson and someone died in the home.” But the case is a little bit weak, and they’re going to do something or take some shortcut to assure conviction. All of those things are violations of the rule of law. So those kinds of things happen all the time. They continue to happen. Hopefully they get policed and they get ferreted out.

The crisis that I’m talking about comes from the top. Comes from the president of the United States. Who likes to, by the way, himself use the phrase rule of law, but we’ve seen in case after case after case credible evidence that he doesn’t follow the precepts that I’ve talked about.

That what matters often, if it touches him, or his allies or his associates, is, ‘Is it good for him or is it bad for him?’ So namely, going back to the report a little bit, you know, he pulls Jim Comey aside and says, about Michael Flynn, “Could you see your way clear to letting him go,” the former National Security Advisor. That’s not rule of law.

Or he tries to get Jeff Sessions, his hand-picked attorney general, to un-recuse himself from the Russia investigation because he thinks what? He thinks that might help Donald Trump in getting away with something. That’s not rule of law. Or he decides, and this is maybe a little bit more controversial, to pardon people. And he has that discretion. That’s a little bit more an outlier issue. But before he did that, with respect to Joe Arpaio, my recollection is there’s a report that he also told Jeff Sessions, “Can you do something about Joe Arpaio?”

And then finally, undermining the rule of law of not just about trying to get special treatment, which is definitely antithesis to the rule of law, for allies, but also worse treatment for adversaries. So just the idea of being present before you’ve seen the evidence and allowing people, or fomenting the chant, “Lock her up,” and saying, you know, “I’m going to put my adversaries in jail” — all of those things undermine the rule of law.

And the reason why it’s so important, and unlike the garden variety, everyday, local examples I’ve been talking about, is he’s the commander-in-chief. He’s the leader of the country. He oversees the Justice Department. And, you know, people start to think, “Well, maybe law enforcement is a game. Maybe the way these things are applied, it should matter if you’re powerful or not powerful, and who’s won. And you get a better chance at things than if you’ve lost or if you’re in a minority position.” And so that I think has been very undermined.

At the risk of going on a little bit longer. When you ask, you know, how do I feel about it — so that’s all bad stuff. I still feel pretty good about where we are, because we have a lot of checks and balances and we have a lot of good practices in place.

One thing essential to the rule of law is an independent and neutral judiciary. Are there some judges who are not so neutral? Yeah, they’re human beings, too. I write about that in the book. But in the federal system, at least, you have life tenure. If you’re a federal judge and you piss off the president, you remain a federal judge. If you’re U.S. Attorney you piss off the president, you get a podcast. (CHUCKLE) So it’s a very different thing.

And I think that the judges have been doing a good job. And whether it’s with respect to the Muslim ban or the census case or anything else, even knowing that you’re going to have the guy with the biggest megaphone in the world call you out by name, accuse you of bias, maybe even say things that, you know, that are borderline racist, you’re still going to have your job. You do what you do. You keep your head down. I think there are a lot of positive signs about the rule of law.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

And people are hanging in there on that.

              PREET BHARARA:

I think they are. I think they are. I don’t know how much people hang in there if there’s a second term, but so far we have a very robust democratic tradition, which includes the rule of law, so I feel okay about it, but I’m worried.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

So Preet, I wanna finish up with some personal questions.

              PREET BHARARA:

Okay. (LAUGH)

              MICHAEL MORELL:

For one, why did you gravitate to the law? And why did you switch from private practice to public service?

              PREET BHARARA:

So I did not do well in chemistry. I’m an immigrant from India. My father and mother also, obviously, came from India. My dad is a pediatrician. Was a pediatrician for many, many years in Asbury Park, New Jersey. He wanted, and I hate to be stereotypical here, but he wanted more than anything else for both of his sons, myself included, to become medical doctors. So, you know, perhaps I wanted to disappoint him. I wasn’t good at chemistry. Did fine in biology.

The truthful answer is I just– over the course of time there were certain things that happened, certain things that I read that made me think, you know, the greatest thing in the world for me would be to be in a courtroom. You know, before I understood the kinds of different lawyers you could become, I read Inherit the Wind when I was in junior high, which apparently they now call middle school. And it made such an impression on me.

And then, you know, To Kill a Mockingbird, it’s a little cliché to say that that made an impression on you, but a lot of people read To Kill a Mockingbird, they don’t become lawyers. I did. And I just thought there’s nothing better than to advocate for a side. I like to argue and I like to express myself.

And you asked the question why switch from private practice to public service. I never intended to be long in private practice. By the time I got to law school, I realized that the thing I wanted to be was a prosecutor, and I could choose what kind of prosecutor. To be a federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, that was in part because of a class I took called Trial Practice, which was taught at the time by someone that we also both know, Michael B. Mukasey, who at the time was a federal district court judge in the Southern District before he became the attorney general of the United States.

And I had never had a more exhilarating experience than doing these simulated things you do in a trial. Cross-examination. Direct examination. Rebuttals. Opening statements. And then to learn what the ethic of that place was, where your only job every day, unlike for other kinds of lawyers, is to do the right thing, and the right way for the right reasons, which I say over and over again in my book.

And I got a sense of the culture of that place and the culture of a good U.S. Attorney’s office and a good prosecutor’s office. So because that office doesn’t hire people directly out of law school, I had to go make my bones somewhere else first.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Preet, you met with President-elect Trump at Trump Tower during the transition.

              PREET BHARARA:

I did.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

What happened in that meeting?

              PREET BHARARA:

So I had been the U.S. Attorney for seven years, appointed by President Obama. Confirmed by the Senate. And then I s–

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Unanimously.

              PREET BHARARA:

Unanimously. Right. And then you get to the election in 2016 and Donald Trump won, in a surprise victory, and I began making plans to take a fancy vacation, because I presumed I was going to go into private practice and have dough to go someplace, you know, farther away than Philadelphia, which is often a typical vacation for my family. (LAUGH)

And then a few days later, Senator Schumer, for whom I worked as chief counsel, called and said the president-elect had called him, and, among other things, had said, “Do you think Preet would stay for another term?” He had been reading about my office and me, I guess.

And then I was asked to come meet with him at Trump Tower on the 26th floor, the famous gold elevators, which I thought was a weird thing. I go to the office. You’ll appreciate this, given what you used to do. The president was late. The president-elect was late, which I’m told is unusual for him. He’s, among other things, you know, a pretty punctual guy. And I was greeted by Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner in his stead.

And the reason the president-elect was late that day, I’m told, was that there had been this controversy that he didn’t care about his national security briefing, which I guess, you know, is the precursor to the presidential daily brief. But he got enough grief about it that he decided to take it that day, and so he was delayed in meeting me.

We had a perfectly pleasant meeting. He made it clear that he had heard about the office and thought the office was successful. And essentially asked me to stay another term. At the same time, he asked me for my phone numbers, which I thought was an odd thing. And so I wrote my phone numbers on a post it pad. I thought it was odd, because obviously I was there, so someone must have had my phone numbers.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Right, right.

              PREET BHARARA:

And it was a very cheery, positive meeting. I made clear to make a statement that, “I presume that you want me to stay because you understand the office is independent, and we’ve gone after Republicans and Democrats and public corruption and everything else. And presumably you want me to continue to do the job as I’ve been doing it.” I thought it was important to say that. And then he told me to tell the gathered press downstairs that I’ve been asked to stay. And I did. So that meeting was fine.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Then you were asked to step down.

              PREET BHARARA:

And I was asked to step down.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

So what happened?

              PREET BHARARA:

So the president-elect called me, privately, without the input of the acting attorney general or anyone else. I thought that was very peculiar. Why is the next president of the United States– who I’d never met him before. Never had any experience with him before. Why is he trying to cultivate what seemed like a personal relationship, or a special relationship, with a sitting U.S. Attorney who has jurisdiction over, among other things, the Trump Organization, the Trump Foundation, all sorts of business matters, campaign matters and everything else.

And I was disturbed by it. Made a report of it. Took notes on it. Let the head of transition know about it during the transition period. So he called me twice during the transition period. And I assumed once Donald Trump became the president — this is before I knew about executive time — that he would be too busy to be reaching out to the local federal prosecutor in a jurisdiction that has great meaning to him.

And I was wrong about that. On March 9th, it was a Thursday afternoon, I got a call, I got a message, I wasn’t at my desk and my assistant had left early, asking me to return the call of the president of the United States. So that I thought was a bright light.

And, as I’ve described elsewhere, I had an hour-long discussion with my deputy. “Do you return the call to the sitting president of the United States?” And it might seem odd to listeners. You know, the boss. He’s the boss. I serve at his pleasure. I’m only there because he asked me to stay. You can only serve if a president asks you, and if a president asks you to go, then you go. So might think it odd that I wouldn’t return the call. It seems rude. And I’m sure in his mind he thought it was rude. But there were other considerations, including–

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Sure.

              PREET BHARARA:

–what it would look like. And remember–

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Sure.

              PREET BHARARA:

–this was after a campaign in which Donald Trump made a huge issue of this tarmac meeting between then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Bill Clinton, former president, when his wife, Hillary Clinton, was under investigation, and Donald Trump, at rally after rally after rally, cast aspersions on that meeting that happened on the side.

And I thought to myself, “This is a version of that.” People had already been calling for investigations of Donald Trump. The emoluments clause case I think had already been filed in the Southern District of New York. And maybe he was calling for innocuous reasons. Maybe he was going to tell me, you know, “I hope you’re doing well.” But it’s odd for a person like the president of the United States to be reaching out when he’s a president.

And so I made the decision I wasn’t going to return the call unless I knew what it was about, or unless it would be the attorney general or some other intermediary. I told the attorney general, Jeff Sessions’ chief of staff, that this call had happened. He agreed with me that I shouldn’t call him back. Or speak to him.

So I returned to the call to the secretary at the White House and said, “I don’t mean to be difficult or disrespectful, but I don’t think it’s right for me to talk to the president.” Twenty-two hours later I was asked for my resignation. I cannot prove that those two things are connected, because everyone else who was an Obama holdover was asked to leave too. But I’ve lived long enough to know that those two things are so close in time, they can’t be a complete coincidence.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

You’re asked to step down, but you don’t.

              PREET BHARARA:

I don’t.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

You don’t.

              PREET BHARARA:

Well, at first I don’t–

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Why?

              PREET BHARARA:

So that happened on a Friday afternoon. At first I refused to step down, because I wasn’t sure I was being asked to go. You know, I got called on a Friday afternoon by, you know, the acting deputy attorney general, Dana Boente, who I knew from working in the Justice Department. And he just had this sort of blanket directive to tell everyone who was an Obama appointee to go.

Now, there were some Obama appointees who were not going to go. They include Rod Rosenstein, who was sitting United States Attorney in Baltimore, who was going to be the DAG. And so I said to Dana Boente, you know, “Hey, are you sure this applies to me?”

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Right. I’m having all these other conversations.

              PREET BHARARA:

Yeah. I mean the president-elect of the United States asked to meet with me, asked me to stay on before he picked a secretary of State. It was the same week that he met with Mitt Romney and hadn’t decided yet.

So he thought it was important enough to call me in, shake my hand, look me in the eye and ask me to stay. And so I just wanted to know if that was right. If it was the president’s wish. It would be embarrassing to accidentally resign from a job–

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Right. Right, right–

              PREET BHARARA:

–that you liked a lot.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Yes.

              PREET BHARARA:

And at the same time, the press–

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Gotcha.

              PREET BHARARA:

–was calling the White House and saying, “Does it apply to Preet?” They said, “Call the Justice Department.” They called the Justice Department. “Does that apply to Preet?” They said, “Call the White House.” So that first evening I just wanted a straight answer and not to be subject to, you know, a weird, you know, bureaucratic glitch.

Remember, not to compare myself to these people, but a week into the presidency they announced the Muslim ban. And, you know, there’s a good amount of incompetence at the White House. Not just, you know, nefariousness, but incompetence. And they hadn’t given any thought to the idea of what to do with people who were green card holders returning to the United States.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Right.

              PREET BHARARA:

I’m like, “Maybe this is one of those kinds of mistakes.” That they want everyone to go–

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Right, right.

              PREET BHARARA:

–but there are a few people not. And I thought, “Maybe that’s why the president was calling me.”

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Right.

              PREET BHARARA:

Maybe he was calling me to say, “Hey, this doesn’t apply to you.” Maybe he was calling me to say, “Look, this thing is happening tomorrow. Thanks for your service, but I changed my mind.” I just wanted to know. So ultimately I said, “I want to know not from some, you know, bureaucrat at the Justice Department, but I would like to know directly from the person who asked me to stay, does he want me to go.” Which would not be the kind of thing you do ordinarily.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Gotcha.

              PREET BHARARA:

“And once I know–“

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Gotcha, gotcha–

              PREET BHARARA:

–“that the president wants me to go, I will go.” That took another 24 hours.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Gotcha.

              PREET BHARARA:

And then I left.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Gotcha. So at the end of the day, do you think he was trying to build a relationship with you to influence you as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, the guy who would be looking at activities that he might have conducted as a private businessman?

              PREET BHARARA:

So in hindsight, yes. I mean I’m not making any accusation there was any particular thing, but now that I’ve seen him in action, now that I’ve seen — and at the time I didn’t know about these — the conversations he had with Jim Comey about, you know, laying off people. The conversations he had with Jeff Sessions. The things that have come to the fore in my own district. The stories I’ve read about how the president has wanted my successor, Geoff Berman, to perhaps un-recuse himself. I don’t know if they’re true enough, but those are the stories. To un-recuse himself from the Michael Cohen investigation.

Donald Trump has shown himself to be, in case after case after case, someone who wants his guy in places where they can be helpful to him. Not to uphold the rule of law, not to do the right thing, not to play it by the rules, not to go by the book, but to benefit him.

Because, frankly, there’s no other explanation as to why the busiest man on Earth, who has no prior relationship with me, the only significance of me at all to him, other than to, you know, do a good job and maintain the public peace and protect public safety, but that’s not what he was calling about, was to maybe be helpful, maybe turn a blind eye to something or maybe cause something to go well for him or maybe cause something to go poorly for one of his adversaries. I will never be able to prove that, but based on a course of conduct, that’s what I believe to be true.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

So Preet, last question, you have a terrific podcast called Stay Tuned With Preet. What have you learned from being a podcaster?

              PREET BHARARA:

Boy, I can talk. (LAUGH) No, what I’ve learned is it is really interesting to talk to people about what they do. People may not know. I just interviewed you for an hour before we did this. And I didn’t know it was going to be as fun as it is, and I presume you’ve had the same experience.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Yeah, absolutely.

              PREET BHARARA:

That you think you know something, but then you learn about people. I mean some people that I’ve known, I learned about aspects of their lives, how they do stuff. And I think the most interesting moments in any podcast is when I’m learning something for the first time.

And you don’t stick to a script. And it’s not quite like examining a witness at trial, but a little bit. You go with the flow. You just use the example of you and me. You know, we had a conversation a little while ago. I had a game plan of what I was going to talk to you about, then we started talking about how to recruit an asset in the CIA.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

A spy. Yeah.

              PREET BHARARA:

How to make a spy. And I think we talked about that for 35 minutes. (LAUGHTER)

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Yeah.

              PREET BHARARA:

So what I’ve discovered is if you’re curious, you can learn a lot. I’m having an education beyond what I expected to have, just by having the opportunity to talk to smart, thoughtful people every week.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Preet, thanks for joining us.

              PREET BHARARA:

Thank you.

              * * *END OF TRANSCRIPT* * *

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