Officially, Preet Bharara is the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Unofficially, he is a stooge of Attorney General Eric Holder and part of the Obama Administration machinery that actively shakes down major financial institutions at the center of the 2008 crash for billions of dollars in so-called “settlements” without actually forcing any executive responsible for that mess to do a perp walk into the slammer.
Bharara is part of a wave of high-profile governmental attorneys/politicians – including Richard Cordray, Lisa Madigan, Kamala Harris, Benjamin Lawsky and Eric Schneiderman – that have worked overtime in actively publicizing their legal targeting the financial services world. What makes Bharara somewhat more interesting is his recent decision to publicly probe New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for his recent decision to disband a state-level anticorruption commission.
Cuomo, of course, came to national prominence as Bill Clinton’s second Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD); Clinton’s first HUD chief, Henry Cisneros, was forced out of office amid an extramarital sex scandal. (And you thought the Man from Hope was the only person in the 1990s’ Executive Branch caught with his pants down!) Cuomo was much less colorful than Cisneros, at least in terms of his views on marital fidelity, but he was also more reckless in realigning federal housing policy in a matter that set into motion the domino chain that ultimately ended up with the 2008 crash.
I don’t know enough about the current Cuomo scandal to pass any judgment on the issue. But I know that it is highly unusual for a U.S. Attorney to happily publicize that he is investigating a major public figure without making any specific facts available to give their inquiry credibility. Indeed, Bharara has given interviews where he makes broad slams about governmental corruption that are clearly meant to sting Cuomo. This is without precedent among high-profile prosecutors, who are usually happy to merely trumpet their arrests and settlements.
Now, why is Bharara making a spectacle of himself at Cuomo’s expense without producing a stitch of evidence that would affirm any criminal aspect to the governor’s disbanding of his anticorruption commission? For starters, Cuomo is a political foe of Hillary Clinton, and we all know that she has career goals that go beyond putting her name on self-serving autobiographies while making guest appearances on comedy talk shows. Bharara is a Democrat, and Clinton could certainly use a new Attorney General or a new CFPB Director in the event she becomes the next president. What better way to charm a potential employer than to discredit that potential employer’s foe – especially one in the middle of a re-election campaign?
Even worse, Bharara’s investigation was allegedly launched without seeking Justice Department approval. By supposedly working independently of the Attorney General, Bharara carefully disconnects the Obama Administration from the investigation of a prominent Democrat. (I need to stress the words “allegedly” and “supposedly” because those claims are based on “people familiar with the matter” told the Wall Street Journal. WSJ readers may notice the newspaper’s liberal habit of reporting news via information provided by people that don’t have names – and as an aside, I always got a laugh out of Nick Timiraos’ housing-related news when he backed his work with unnamed people who were supposedly “familiar” with insider machinations.)
How is all of this going to play out? I would wager that Bharara’s tough talk is merely heated verbiage – if he had the goods on Cuomo, he would have gone for the jugular right away. By carefully smearing Cuomo with the public suggestion that the governor is playing sleazy political games, Bharara demeans the integrity of his office and dilutes the respect he has for the people he is sworn to serve.
And while Cuomo is hardly a figure deserving of surplus sympathy, he is getting a raw deal from this publicity-seeking shyster. Bharara needs to make his case in court with facts, not in the newspapers with innuendo.
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