Financial cheaters and corrupt politicians beware: One of America’s hardest-charging prosecutors isn’t going anywhere. Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara’s brief announcement that he has agreed to stay on in the Donald Trump administration signals in at least one way that the president-elect may be serious about keeping his campaign promise to crack down on corruption. Bharara, who was once lauded on the cover of Time magazine as the man who is “busting Wall Street,” has in the past few years set his sights on prosecuting more than a dozen state officeholders, including New York’s two most powerful lawmakers. And lately he has hinted that there may be more prosecutorial surprises to come.
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“I said I would absolutely consider staying on. … I agreed to stay on,” the quick-witted Bharara told reporters in Trump Tower after his meeting with Trump on Wednesday, adding that the billionaire businessman asked him to remain “presumably because he’s a New Yorker and is aware of the great work that our office has done.”
The surprise meeting ended months of speculation on whether Bharara would stay on after President Barack Obama leaves office in January. Though others who have held his job have gone on to other high-profile positions, such as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and current FBI Director James Comey, Bharara has repeatedly insisted in interviews that he has the job he wants.
The 48-year-old, Indian-born Bharara, who holds degrees from Harvard and Columbia Law, was appointed by Obama in 2009 in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. He talked tough against white-collar crime and won convictions against dozens of defendants in insider-trading cases.
More recently, he’s built his reputation on his assault on public corruption, which included the arrests of two of the three most powerful politicians in New York state. The cases against former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate majority leader Dean Skelos resulted in convictions. And there has been much speculation whether Bharara would go after the last member of the state’s power trio, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
At a September news conference announcing the arrests of one of Cuomo’s former top advisers and seven others on corruption charges, Bharara said the investigation would continue and cut off questions from reporters who wanted to know if the governor himself was a target.
“There are no allegations of wrongdoing by the governor anywhere in this complaint. That’s all I’m going to say,” Bharara said.
At Trump Tower, Bharara told reporters Wednesday that he had been asked to stay by both Trump and Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick to be attorney general.
The move to keep Bharara in place apparently began last week, when Trump sought the opinion of New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer. Before Bharara became U.S. attorney, he was Schumer’s chief counsel, helping to lead the investigation into the firings of nine US attorneys under President George W. Bush.
“I told him I thought Preet was great, and I would be all for keeping him on the job and fully support it,” Schumer said in a statement. “I am glad they met and am glad Preet is staying on. He’s one of the best US attorneys New York has ever seen.”
Boyd Johnson, who was deputy US attorney in Bharara’s early years but is now in private practice, said Wednesday: “In a turbulent time, it is comforting to know that Preet’s passion for public service, his commitment to the rule of law, and his abiding integrity will continue to drive the work of the Southern District of New York.”