Preet Bharara is the former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. He was abruptly fired by Donald Trump, after he refused to take a personal call from the President he felt was inappropriate, considering his office was investigating Trump. Bharara appeared on Morning Joe this morning, and he discussed Geoffrey Berman, his replacement as the US Attorney for the SDNY. Berman was hand-picked by Donald Trump to lead the SDNY. Berman was a law partner of Rudy Giuliani, who is famously part of Donald Trump’s legal defense team.
Bharara discussed how aggressively the SDNY has pursued investigations against Donald Trump, despite Trump having fired Bharara and hand-picked his replacement. Bharara described the pressure his replacement is under to do the right thing, and he later likened Berman’s situation to that of Attorney General William Barr.
Bharara stated that the SDNY, like the Department of Justice, is filled with dedicated, professional prosecutors, totally committed to the rule of law. If Berman interfered with any rightful attempt to investigate and prosecute crimes, the law enforcement community and the public would know about it within days, and Berman’s professional reputation would suffer irreparable harm. While a lawyer such as Berman might initially come into the SDNY with the intent of interfering in an ongoing investigation, once inside the organization, Berman would be hit with the realization that dozens of lawyers and reporters are actively watching him, and looking for any sign of interference. Berman, quickly and wisely, recused himself on all matters related to Donald Trump.
The pressure that Berman faces in the SDNY is less than the pressure on Donald Trump’s hand-picked Attorney General, William Barr. His decisions and actions will be recorded in history books and he surely knows it. While he declined to recuse himself, which probably would have gotten him fired on the spot, there are clearly signs that Barr, like Berman, is not willing to be seen as a puppet for Donald Trump.
The latest sign is today’s announcement of the continued employment of Rod Rosenstein as the Deputy Attorney General. Barr declared under oath during his confirmation hearings, that he spoke with Rosenstein and expected him to depart DOJ after a transition period, which was expected to be mid-March. Today, it was announced that Rosenstein would stay on “longer.” This will not make Donald Trump happy at all.
Rosenstein retained control of the day-to-day management of the Mueller investigation throughout Jeff Sessions’ tenure as Attorney General, throughout Matt Whittaker’s tenure as Acting AG, and now through William Barr’s tenure as Attorney General. It would be highly unusual, and would attract attention, for the Attorney General to interfere and be involved in the day-to-day management of the Mueller investigation. Instead, the normal way for Barr to impact the day-to-day management of the Mueller investigation would be for him to replace Rod Rosenstein with his own hand-picked Deputy Attorney General.
Allowing Rod Rosenstein to continue in his position, and continue to oversee the management of the Mueller investigation for an undetermined amount of time, is a big deal. It is another indication that William Barr is unwilling to directly interfere with the Mueller investigation.
Cheryl Kelley lives in the DC area with her husband and young son. She is active in government and politics.