News, University News

Bharara talks importance of public service

Fired by Trump, U.S. Attorney spoke on his personal experiences in civic engagement

By
Senior Staff Writer
Monday, October 30, 2017

Since he was fired by President Trump’s administration, Preet Bharara is “doing fine.”

Or at least, that’s what the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York said as he opened his lecture at the Taubman Center on Monday.

“Everything is alright,” Bharara said, listing his current endeavors: He is a Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the NYU School of Law, hosts a podcast and is writing a book.

In his previous post from 2009 to 2017, Bharara oversaw the investigations of all criminal and civil cases brought on behalf of the United States in the Southern District of New York and supervised an office of more than 200 assistant U.S. Attorneys.

Throughout the lecture, Bharara emphasized the importance of public service through his own personal experiences. “I think, in every time, public service is important, but there are times when public service is even more important than other times — and I think that time is now,” Bharara said. Bharara listed protesting, volunteering in government and simply speaking up for one’s beliefs as important methods for systematic change. “I think there’s value and need for people who care about the country to take action,” Bharara said.

Bharara stressed that the institutions in place today constitute a historical and stable system despite the Trump administration’s actions. The press, courts and Congress cannot be undone by Trump, Bhara said. As for the press, Trump can “mock the press but can’t undo the first amendment and slander laws,” Bharara said. The courts remain stable as judges have life tenure and Congress retains many powers the president lacks, he added.

However, Bharara did express concern for the state of the current executive branch. “The place I’m most concerned — where some of the rhetoric, attitude and abilities of the president gives me concern — is within the executive branch itself. When there are structural protections for the branches … there is little the president can do. But there is a whole ‘nother regime that governs conduct in the government, and those are called norms. Norms, by definitionk are soft,” Bharara said.

The conversation shifted later, and Bharara asked his audience how to reform the American political system to prevent any further damage that Trump or similar figures could cause. Bharara listed making laws to prevent the hiring of a special council or requiring presidential candidates to disclose tax returns as possibilities. “We must think more broadly about public service — what are larger scale reforms that we should be advocating, so the next guy doesn’t try to do the same things,” Bharara said.

Bharara touched on a wide range of topics during the question and answer portion of the evening including his disappointment in the electoral college, the tension between liberty and security and executive privilege.

“I think public service should really be about ways we can make our American system better and live up to the ideals they are supposed to stand for,” Bharara said.