The New York Law Journal by Mark Hamblett - News In Brief - August 11, 2009
Preetinder S. Bharara was confirmed Friday by the U.S. Senate as the next U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. Mr. Bharara, 40, is a veteran of the Southern District who worked as chief counsel to U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and headed the Senate Judiciary Committee investigation into whether the firings of U.S. attorneys in several districts by the Bush administration were politically motivated. Mr. Bharara served as a prosecutor in the Southern District from 2000 to 2005, working in the general crimes, narcotics and organized crime/terrorism units. He follows in the footsteps of Michael L. Garcia, who served in the post from 2005 until Dec. 1, 2008, and veteran prosecutor Lev Dassin, who has served as acting U.S. attorney since December. The Senate went into recess last week without taking action on President Obama's nomination of Loretta Lynch, a partner at Hogan & Hartson, as the next U.S. attorney in the Eastern District, where she served as the district's top prosecutor from 1999 to 2001. — Mark Hamblett
For Manhattan’s Next U.S. Attorney, Politics and Prosecution Don’t Mix
He worked for one of the most partisan Democratic senators in Washington, and a few years ago helped to uncover political maneuverings by the Justice Department in the administration of President George W. Bush. But perhaps the most telling aspect about Preet Bharara, the next United States attorney in Manhattan, may be how he managed to win the trust and respect of even those who might have been his natural opponents. Mr. Bharara, who served as the chief counsel to Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, played a major role in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s investigation into the firings of United States attorneys around the country. As he took sworn testimony from witnesses, handled the issuance of subpoenas and negotiated with administration officials over the production of documents and other materials, he drew praise for his evenhanded approach. He even won over one fired prosecutor, David C. Iglesias of New Mexico, a Republican who said he had wavered over whether to testify voluntarily before the panel, fearing that it would degenerate into a “partisan circus.” But after their conversations, Mr. Iglesias said, he concluded that Mr. Bharara was approaching the investigation like a prosecutor, not a politician. “It gave me a lot of assurance," Mr. Iglesias said. “He completely understood what was at stake here.” A key factor, Mr. Iglesias added, was that Mr. Bharara had formerly worked as a prosecutor in the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan, an office with a reputation for independence and nonpartisanship.
Now, Mr. Bharara, 40, will be asked to carry on that tradition. On Friday, the Senate confirmed him to be the next United States attorney for the Southern District of New York. Although he declined to comment for this article, he spoke last year about his role in the Senate inquiry and his feelings that a line between federal prosecutors and politics had been crossed. “You’re talking about the Department of Justice,” he said, “that employs 100,000 people, that used to be led by Bobby Kennedy, that a lot of people in America look to.” IN his new post, Mr. Bharara will oversee more than 200 lawyers who handle some of the country’s most prominent cases, like the prosecution of Bernard L. Madoff for his multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme.
As a naturalized American citizen from India, Mr. Bharara also brings a diversity of background to the post And while recent United States attorneys in Manhattan have come directly from prosecutors’ jobs, Mr. Bharara’s background on Capitol Hill will serve him well, said Daniel C. Richman, a law professor at Columbia University and a former Southern District prosecutor. “He contributes things that we’ve not seen before,” Professor Richman said. “He’s thought hard about what a U.S. attorney’s place should be within a broader federal enforcement system and the train wrecks that can develop when unthinking or ill-thinking bureaucrats tamper with that. Preetinder S. Bharara was born in Ferozepur, India, and he was an infant when his parents immigrated to the United States in 1970. He grew up in Monmouth County, N.J., and graduated from Harvard in 1990 and Columbia Law School in 1993. That summer, he worked for several weeks as a volunteer in Mark Green’s campaign for public advocate, occasionally driving the candidate to campaign events. He has reflected on his roots and the improbable journey his family took to get to this country. His father, a Sikh, and his mother, who was Hindu, were born in what is now Pakistan, before India and Pakistan were separate countries. In the violent migration that occurred after the 1947 partition, his father and mother both moved to the Indian side, with their families losing property and most of their possessions, Mr. Bharara has said.
His wife’s father, a Muslim, also moved, from the Indian side into Pakistan, also losing his home “and much, much more,” as Mr. Bharara put it. And his wife’s mother was born in Palestine, after her father, who was Jewish, escaped with his family from Nazi Germany. “Four different families, practicing four different faiths — all compelled to flee a half century ago because of their religion,” Mr. Bharara said in a speech to the South Asian Bar Association of New York in 2007. “It also means,” he joked, “that even when my wife fasts for Yom Kippur, and my father-in-law fasts for Ramadan, I get to stuff my face with samosas all day.” In 2000, after about six years in private practice, Mr. Bharara became a Southern District prosecutor, first under Mary Jo White, and later under James B. Comey. For five years, he prosecuted organized crime, narcotics and securities fraud, among other crimes. One major case, with dozens of defendants, involved Chinese organized crime. He was a hard worker who had a self-deprecating wit and stayed cool under pressure, according to former associates. “Preet was one of those guys in the office who everyone wanted to try a case with,” said Christopher P. Conniff, a prosecutor at the time.
IN 2005, Mr. Bharara became Senator Schumer’s chief counsel. Former colleagues described him as a skilled staff member in a political caldron where Democrats were often negotiating among themselves as much as they were with Republicans. “He does have an incredible manner and ability to work with others,” said the New Jersey attorney general, Anne Milgram, who in 2005 served as counsel to Jon S. Corzine, then a United States senator, and got to know Mr. Bharara through their work on judiciary issues. “He never carries himself like he’s the smartest guy in the room, even though he often is,” she added. Mr. Bharara said in a speech in 2007, “Party affiliation can’t tell you whether to indict a case, whether to plead it out, or how to try it. His approach has allowed him to remain close to people with whom he otherwise disagrees sharply. One friend from college, Viet D. Dinh, who served as an assistant attorney general in the George W. Bush administration and now teaches law at Georgetown University, said, “To this day I cannot find a single big political philosophical issue upon which Preet and I agree, but I can’t imagine two other people trusting each other implicitly the way Preet and I do.”
During the Judiciary Committee’s investigation into the prosecutor firings, Mr. Bharara was aided by his background as a federal prosecutor in Manhattan. “To the extent that Preet was the driving force of the investigation, it was conducted in a completely fair, thorough and professional manner,” said Michael M. Purpura, a former Southern District colleague who was a senior lawyer in the Bush Justice Department and later an associate White House counsel. The investigation, along with a separate inquiry by the House Judiciary Committee, culminated in the 2007 resignation of Attorney GeneralAlberto R. Gonzales.Mr. Bharara, in a bar association talk last year, said that the investigation’s focus had been not only on whether there had been violations of law, but also on whether “the great traditions of the department were violated. He added, “The more that was uncovered, the more it seemed clear that there was politicization,” not only in how United States attorneys were being fired or hired, but even at the lowest level — “the line level,” as he put it — “where there should never be any politics at all.”