Q&A: Robert Morgenthau on the dismissal of Preet Bharara
Like Preet Bharara, Robert Morgenthau was once forced out of the job of U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. While Morgenthau went on to distinguish himself as the long-serving district attorney of Manhattan, it’s unclear what’s next for Bharara. City & State’s Sarina Trangle spoke with the 97-year-old former prosecutor about Bharara’s recent dismissal, the process of replacing him, and the comparisons between the two men.
C&S: What was your initial reaction to Preet Bharara’s exit?
RM: I think that job, that position should not be a political football, and it looks like maybe it was being made a political football. To be an effective prosecutor, he’s got to be independent. And obviously over time, the president can change them. But the law says he should appoint a U.S. attorney for a term of four years, and that means something, I think. So I was pleased to see that Bharara was maintaining the position of independence.
C&S: What did you think of the president firing him without having a replacement in mind? Did that increase the politicizing of the position?
RM: I don’t want to get into that. You can argue one way or another. I just think that the facts speak for themselves really, and the firing had political overtones.
"[The U.S. Attorney] position should not be a political football. ... To be an effective prosecutor, he’s got to be independent.
C&S: What do you think of the comparisons between you and Bharara?
RM: That’s for other people to think about. I mean, I had a problem because I was investigating some of (then-President Richard) Nixon’s friends, and some of the things involving him, and he wanted me out. ... I would get these suggestions that I should resign, and then finally, I got a hand-delivered letter, hand delivered by the FBI, demanding that I resign. … The White House announced I had been terminated. So I think there’s some similarity. I just felt there should be independence. For instance, my last year in office, I prosecuted (the former Tammany Hall leader) Carmine De Sapio, convicted Democratic leaders. I prosecuted the treasurer of the Democratic State Committee. So I was not influenced by people’s political connections.
C&S: How much confidence do you have that Bharara’s replacement will have sufficient independence from the president his administration?
RM: I guess the proof of the pudding is in the eating. We’ll find out. I just don’t know.