By Kevin McCoy
NEW YORK – Ever since President Trump fired him in March, Preet Bharara has returned fire with his own legal critiques of the president's actions via Twitter. Now, the former federal prosecutor is turning up the volume, launching a new podcast to discuss justice and fairness issues — including, potentially, the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and the circumstances of his firing.
“I’m not putting anything off limits,” Bharara tells USA TODAY.
Bharara's ouster from the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, one of the nation's most powerful legal posts, has given him more leeway to speak freely. His new podcast series is titled "Stay Tuned With Preet" — a winking reference to the catchphrase Bharara frequently employed to parry questions from news reporters about continuing federal investigations.
And Bharara seems to hold nothing back in a promotional audio trailer for the first podcast slated to run on Wednesday. Overseeing prosecutions of mobsters, murderers, and corrupt politicians was the best job he ever had, he says.
“I lost that job," adds Bharara, with dramatic flair. "Actually, that’s a euphemism. I was fired. By President Donald Trump himself."
Audio: Listen to Preet Bharara
In an interview, Bharara says he plans to address his firing in one of the first podcasts, "so people will understand the context from which I'm speaking."
Bharara has said he agreed to stay on as a federal prosecutor at Trump's request, after a meeting at Trump Tower during the presidential transition. But Trump fired Bharara and 45 other U.S. Attorney holdovers from the Obama administration in March — after Bharara, citing Justice Department rules, says he declined to return a phone call from the recently inaugurated president.
The 48-year-old attorney says his forthcoming podcast is not planned as a current events series, or even to be specifically about Trump. It's meant to be a broad examination of new and ongoing justice and fairness issues, such as the role of the press in a democracy, and judicial issues, he says. Joining him will be prosecutors, judges, Department of Justice officials and investigative reporters.
"I'm not doing a weekly podcast to throw bombs. I’m a private citizen, I'm not special counsel Mueller," Bharara tells USA TODAY, referring to former FBI director Robert Mueller, who's investigating Russia's suspected campaign of cyberattacks and fake news to influence the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion with Trump associates.
"If I were in the White House, the only person I’d be worried about is Mr. Mueller,” says Bharara.
That said, the podcasts could present Bharara with opportunities to discuss Trump and the new administration from his perspective. "I have personal experience with how this president seems to view rule of law and law and order issues, and I have not been especially shy about that on social media," Bharara says.
Already, for his nearly half-million Twitter followers, Bharara has been a regular critic of Trump and his administration's legal positions — and a frequent commentator on the ongoing Russia investigation. His 140-character missives perhaps hint about the tone he'll take in the podcasts. After all, he's accused the president and his administration ofbeing "un-American" and "legal undermining of democratic norms."
Other legal themes that Bharara says "would be natural to talk about" include "rule of law issues related to appointment of a special counsel."
Stressing that he would only address the Mueller-led Russia investigation as a private citizen, Bharara nonetheless suggested that his legal observations of some specific details of the unfolding case would be interesting to average listeners.
For instance, there was a delay before media organizations learned about the FBI's pre-dawn July search of the home of Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, says Bharara. That suggests that investigators directed by Mueller are being careful not to make mistakes or court publicity that could open them to criticism, he says.
"That tells me something about the investigation, and that is something I feel comfortable talking about that I think lay people would appreciate,” says Bharara.
Yet another controversial episode Bharara suggested he could explore is "unexpected" presidential pardons, like the one Trump issued in late August for former Arizona Sheriff Joseph Arpaio. Arpaio had been convicted of criminal contempt in connection with a long-running racial profiling lawsuit.
Trump pardoned Arpaio without following the standard process, which usually requires seven layers of review and an FBI background check.
Bharara, who was informally dubbed the Sheriff of Wall Street, seemed every inch the standard jacket-and-tie Justice Department prosecutor during the seven years the Obama appointee and his legal staff prosecuted financial industry insider-trading, organized crime, Ponzi scheme mastermind Bernard Madoff, and public corruption cases against top New York State leaders of both major political parties.
But he'd ditched the tie for an open-neck shirt and tapered slacks as he discussed his new transition at Some Spider Studios, the Manhattan media production company where he's now a business partner and with his younger brother, Vinit.
File photo taken in September 2017 shows former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in the headquarters of Som Spider Studios. (Photo: Jennifer S. Altman, for USA TODAY)
A Some Spiders media brand called Cafe is producing the podcast series, which will air as a partnership with WNYC Studios, the podcasting arm of the popular Manhattan-based public radio station. There, Bharara's podcasts will join actor and comedian Alec Baldwin's "Here's The Thing" and others.
The initial series is scheduled for a 10-week run. The starting date for a second-season run has yet to be determined. Dean Cappello, WNYC chief content officer and head of WNYC Studios, predicts listeners will be drawn to the new podcast host he describes as "a big, charismatic personality who has things to say."
While Bharara may still miss the best job he's ever had, he says the podcast gig is "an ideal way to "amplify my voice."