What Donald Trump’s Preet pick means for de Blasio, Cuomo and Giuliani
The possible reasons behind President-elect’s decision to keep U.S. Attorney Bharara By Jeremy Smerd
Of President-elect Donald Trump’s nominees so far, the most curious—from a New York perspective—is Preet Bharara, President Barack Obama’s U.S. attorney for the Southern District, who agreed last week to work under Republican Attorney General-nominee Jeff Sessions.
Sen. Charles Schumer, who had long ago hired Bharara as his chief counsel, reportedly blessed the deal, lending it an aura of bipartisanship.
The choice indicates that Trump, who has said he will “drain the swamp” in Washington, likes what Bharara has done so far in New York, where he has taken down former state Sen. Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, among others.
In Bharara, Trump finds a prosecutor who is above reproach and who can keep the pressure on Mayor Bill de Blasio, whom Trump has called “the worst mayor in the history of New York City.” Bharara is investigating the mayor’s fundraising operations and role in the sale of Long Island College Hospital. Retaining Bharara also makes life uncomfortable for Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Bharara recently obtained a guilty plea—and cooperation—from a Cuomo confidant and has charged others, including a former top aide, in a wide-ranging indictment involving the governor’s upstate economic-development programs.
All this suggests that Bharara will continue to be given wide discretion in how he conducts his job. Some insiders are speculating there could be fallout from Rudy Giuliani’s boast in October about having connections inside the FBI that would affect the election. “We’ve got a couple of surprises left,” the Trump surrogate told Fox News on Oct. 25. Three days later, FBI Director James Comey said agents working on the Anthony Weiner sexting investigation had found emails that appeared relevant to the Hillary Clinton email probe, which he had previously said was closed.
Some former prosecutors believe a Southern District investigation into a possible leak in the Weiner case is imminent, if not already underway. Bharara’s office declined to comment. “A leak of confidential law enforcement information is always troubling because it corrupts the integrity of our criminal justice system and calls its fairness into doubt,” said a former assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District.
“Nowhere is this more true than when the investigation itself involves allegations of corruption by public officials, because the leaks are inevitably seen as politically motivated attacks.” Giuliani was an effective surrogate but, like Gov. Chris Christie (and perhaps for similar reasons), he seems to have been pushed aside. If an investigation materializes, then Trump—intentionally or not—would really have a bipartisan claim to draining the swamp.
A version of this article appears in the December 5, 2016, print issue of Crain’s New York Busines