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Podcast: Life After the Mueller Report with Preet Bharara

Podcast: Life After the Mueller Report with Preet Bharara
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TRANSCRIPT: Life After the Mueller Report with Preet Bharara

Preet Bharara:

It is important to understand and learn whether or not the President of the United States behaved unethically or immorally or abused as power in some way, even if it's the case that a certain prosecutor named Robert Mueller didn't find that there was proof beyond a reasonable doubt that they couldn't make a criminal case.

Ian Bremmer:

Hi, I'm Ian Bremmer and welcome to the GZERO World Podcast, an audio version of what you can find on public television, where I analyze global topics, sit down with big guests and make use of small puppets. This week I sit down with Preet, former US attorney, Preet Bharara, to make sense of the latest development surrounding the release of the Mueller report. We'll also discuss some of the other investigations underway into the Trump administration and how it will all play out in the 2020 presidential race. Let's get to it.

Announcer:

The GZERO world is brought to you by our founding sponsor, First Republic. First Republic, a private bank and wealth management company, places clients' needs first, by providing responsive, relevant, and customized solutions. Visit firstrepublic.com to learn more.

Ian Bremmer:

Preet Bharara, author of the New York Times bestselling book for weeks and running, Doing Justice, and Former US Attorney.

Preet Bharara:

You said that much more quietly. The book is more important to plug than my previous office.

Ian Bremmer:

This is now. So what should the average person take away? There's so much noise around all of these investigations of which Mueller is only one. If they were going to just spend half an hour, an hour trying to get up to speed on what matters, what's going to have impact long term, you'd say focus on what?

Preet Bharara:

It's hard to focus on one thing. And a lot of people get their information from other sources. People don't have the time to read every indictment, to read every document that's filed in court. People will not have time to read the entire Mueller report, but they can listen to you. They can listen to my podcast.

Ian Bremmer:

And here you are.

Preet Bharara:

And here I am.

Ian Bremmer:

So let's have that discussion, let's tell them right now what we think they need to know.

Preet Bharara:

Going back to your question on what sources should they rely on, I think one important thing is to rely on multiple sources. One of the things I write about in the book that I think is a problem in the country and the reason why people don't persuade other people to their point of view is that nobody wants to be persuaded and they only listen to people who agree with them, they only watch the one channel. They either rely on Rush Limbaugh or no one else, or they rely on Rachel Maddow only, and that's where they get their news, and some of those folks may be authoritative.

But it is important, I think, to mix it up a little bit and change it up a little bit and listen to folks and hear from folks and talk to people in your community who disagree with you, maybe radically disagree with you so you can test your own belief. And if somebody says something about the Mueller report that seems to jive with your view of what makes sense in the world, it's not a terrible idea to listen to someone else, say something different and then you can decide that other person is nonsensical.

Ian Bremmer:

For the purposes of this arguments validity, is it problematic that I agree with you?

Preet Bharara:

No, it's okay to agree with me.

Ian Bremmer:

Okay, good.

Preet Bharara:

But it's probably also useful for people to hear from some other folks who don't agree with me, and I think that's fine. The other thing I think it's important for people to understand when they evaluate what is or is not in the Mueller report is for a citizen, it is important to understand and learn whether or not the President of the United States behaved unethically or immorally or abused as power in some way, even if it's the case that a certain prosecutor named Robert Mueller didn't find that there was proof beyond a reasonable doubt, even in circumstances where the Department of Justice says, "You can't prosecute a president," that they couldn't make a criminal case. And I know that the standard has been changed whereby so long as you're not indicted and taken in cuffs away from office, then you're good. You're exonerated, you're cleared, and everyone should walk away thinking that they're very lucky to have such a representative and a public servant in office. That's not how it used to be.

Ian Bremmer:

You were attorney for the Southern District.

Preet Bharara:

Yes.

Ian Bremmer:

There are a lot of investigations going on in the Southern district. In the grand scheme of things, if you want to understand your earlier point about what Trump is up to, how important are those investigations compared to the Mueller investigations? Because Mueller's gotten vastly more attention, certainly.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah, they're looking at different things. Presumably Mueller spun off certain aspects of things that he was looking at to the Southern district because they didn't go squarely to the question, which is an incredibly important one about Russia, and about interference in the election and potential conspiracy or coordination with people who are trying to undermine democracy in this country. That's incredibly important, hugely important. This other district investigations, as far as I can tell, and I have no personal knowledge on this because I'm not there anymore, have to do with potentially financial improprieties, campaign finance violations and transgressions, maybe some things that went on with the inaugural committee.

Those are important in part because of the person who might have been involved in doing those things, who happens to be the commander in chief and the leader of the free world as they say, but they don't necessarily go to foundational issues like how we should protect our democracy going forward and what our posture is towards not just a rival but a political foe internationally like Russia. But they're still important. And they're more important in some ways, given the spirit of your question, because they might have consequences for the President, most importantly, if and when he leaves office.

Ian Bremmer:

How seriously should the public take what we have learned about the Russian interventions into the US election? How serious?

Preet Bharara:

I think for everything I've seen, incredibly seriously. I think you would agree that at the heart of all this and the reason why it was so significant, the question of whether or not there was coordination, is it's a very serious thing if it had been proven and it has not been according to Bob Mueller, and I accept that. But it's a very serious thing for there to be the suggestion that someone sought to win election to the highest office in the land by coordinating with or conspiring with a political foe who had a preference and who had some involvement in our election. That's fundamental to how democracy should or should not work. So I think it's really important. The other reason I think it's important, and I think that's little spoken about is what are we doing about the next election?

Ian Bremmer:

Last one, Obama was president, didn't do very much. This one, Trump's president, probably going to do even less, right?

Preet Bharara:

I guess. And part of the reason for that is that any suggestion that there was something untoward, interference or otherwise with the 2016 election, I think doing some armchair psychology of Donald Trump, causes him to think, someone is casting aspersion on legitimacy of my win. And so if I were to command forces like you would do in an ordinary world, and say, "We cannot stand for this. Elections must be fair and free. There can be no interference from other countries and certainly not rivals of ours and foes of ours, adversaries of ours like Russia. And so I'm going to have a blue ribbon panel and I'm convening all the heads of the agencies to make sure it doesn't happen and make it real priority and send the message to the troops. We cannot let this happen." That's what should happen. But to do that, I think in his mind, would be an admission that somehow he's illegitimate and he can't bear it, and so he doesn't do it. And that should, I think, worry a lot of people.

Ian Bremmer:

At the very least, it would be that. So in other words, it is kind of a welcome mat for the Russians and potentially others to pile in, especially if you're on the side of the president?

Preet Bharara:

Unless the fact of the Mueller investigation, unless the idea that maybe there'll be a new president, maybe Congress on the Senate side would also change hands and change parties, that there's some cost to be born. If future hacking activity or interference activity becomes known in 2020 or 2021, maybe it's not worth it. And maybe they're trying to see what the political landscape is. But fundamentally, I think you're right, that it seems to be a welcome mat saying, "Do this again because there's not a lot of consequence," unless they view these other things as costly.

Ian Bremmer:

The interesting thing to think about is we've spent all this time trying to work out a deal with the Chinese. We're really angry because they are interfering in our intellectual property. So we're like, we want something where they commit to stop doing it, and there'll be an enforcement mechanism where we will hit them unilaterally if they don't. You would think that why wouldn't you do that with the Russians? If they're hitting our elections, we're going to stop doing that? Here's an enforcement mechanism and here's what we're going to do if you don't. But that's not happening.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah, now you're bringing up all those issues that cause people to say, "There's something weird going on here," which then causes the president's allies to say, "You're talking about a hoax."

Ian Bremmer:

Given all of this, how much do you think that rule of law in the United States has actually eroded?

Preet Bharara:

I say 23%.

Ian Bremmer:

Yeah?

Preet Bharara:

Yeah. People always want to quantify?

Ian Bremmer:

Is it on a steady scale? I wasn't asking you to quantify.

Preet Bharara:

I know.

Ian Bremmer:

How much? Was just like a lot or a little? Is it bigger than a bread box? I was prepared for more of an analogy, a metaphor.

Preet Bharara:

Look, it's like anything else. We don't know yet. So there's going to be a terrible medical analogy that I just came up with right now, so I apologize in advance to all of you. You get hit by a baseball. My boys play baseball. You get hit by a ball and it looks really bad. And until you have an opportunity to evaluate it, inspect it, monitor, watch your child over time, you don't know right away is there a concussion. You don't know right away if there's internal bleeding, you don't know right away how long it's going to take for the wound or the bruise to heal. You don't know right away if there's going to be other issues. And I feel like we're like that.

Ian Bremmer:

That's a fair perspective for a legal expert to take maybe a few months after Trump becomes president, but we've now had two and a half years.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah. I had someone very smart on my podcast recently who dodged this question in a slightly different way because I asked this question, it's a really good question and we should be asking it, but I prefer to ask it than to answer it because it's a hard question to answer. So look, I think that the institutions are holding up. I think the rule of law is basically okay, and it's under siege and people are being persuaded to have their faith in the rule of law undermined and their faith in institutions like the intelligence community and the FBI undermined. But I think we're okay because if it stops soon, then we'll be all right and then we can restore those things. And those things are not beyond restoring fully to their prior high positions, those institutions, those norms, those rules. And then this person said, it was Ed Luse.

Ian Bremmer:

From the Financial Times.

Preet Bharara:

From the Financial Times. And he said, "But I want to revisit that if Trump gets reelected." Because it's one thing to be in this position now where things seem undermined that you can bounce back from and be resilient about in only another 20 months or whatever it is. But if we're going to have six more years of this, we're going to have a concern.

Ian Bremmer:

Let me ask the question in an easier way, which is if you get hit with that baseball and it hits you in the head, if you're a doctor, you're not checking for a groin pole, you're actually checking for a concussion, you're checking for slurred speech. What are the things that you would want to be looking for over the coming months, over the coming years, if Trump would've win again, where you would say that's a warning sign? Where do you think the equivalent of that slurred speech is likely to come to blurry vision in the United States?

Preet Bharara:

I think it'll be in further actions taken by the president, whether they're viewed as erratic or further undermining the rule of law. If people around him, if Bill Barr, for example, takes positions that are diametrically opposite to what's in the interest of the public, if he seems not to be so interested in what justice requires and fairness requires and transparency requires, but much more interested in protecting the president, these are all signs of dizziness and wobbliness. And sometimes you don't know them until you see them. I also think, by the way, to continue this terrible medical metaphor that I started us down the path on, even after you get hit by the baseball and you don't know exactly what is going on, you begin to take some precautions. You might decide to get a better helmet. You might decide that you won't play for a little while.

You might decide to engage in some therapy. You might decide to take certain medicine. And I think those things that Congress can enact to shore up those institutions, not just wait and see what damage this president does by deciding you're going to codify some norms into hard loss. You can decide you're going to affect the way the pardon power is exercised. You can decide you're going to make sure that the nepotism laws are changed. You can decide to make sure that security clearances can't be given in the way that this president has given them. So there's a lot of things that the Congress can do.

Ian Bremmer:

You can't just have acting officials in certain positions, for example.

Preet Bharara:

That's a very great example that I hope my democracy task force that I chair with, Governor Christine Todd Whitman will probably take a look at.

Ian Bremmer:

I'm going to ask about your book for a moment, Doing Justice. You did something unusual, which is you wrote a bestselling book that speaks nicely about lawyers.

Preet Bharara:

We need them today. They can do some good stuff now.

Ian Bremmer:

In part because they take both sides. They have to understand both sides.

Preet Bharara:

So look, it is very commonplace and popular to malign lawyers. We do it to ourselves. There's lots of reasons not to like lawyers, particularly litigious lawyers, they talk too much, they charge too much, they sue too much. And all those things may be depending on the circumstances, true. But the one thing we can look to them as a model for is what happens in a courtroom. When there are two sides who are dead set against each other, when there are things at stake, whether it's money or liberty, quite frankly, in a criminal case, you looked at that as a model, as distinct from what happens now. Now, what happens in the world is people, they have their own point of view, they don't listen to the other side. They're siloed in their own little communities. They watch either Fox News or they watch whatever the opposite of that is, and they don't mix it up at all.

And then second, if they do mix it up and they do just decide to engage the other side, it's often done with invective character assassination, attacks, fearmongering, racism, all sorts of ways in which they argue that are not the right way to get to the truth, not the right way to get independent people to be persuaded. And then you look at what happens in a court of law. A lawyer, if you're a prosecutor or defense lawyer, cannot decide when the other side is maligning your case and maligning you and your arguments, to put your hands over your ears and sing a song and then not address those arguments. You must, by definition, listen to the arguments and engage them and respond to them. Otherwise, the jury is not going to be with you, the court is not going to be with you. So that's already different from how we deal with things in the public square in many ways.

Ian Bremmer:

Is that starting to change?

Preet Bharara:

I don't know.

Ian Bremmer:

As the country gets more divided, as constituencies get more divided, I wonder as juries become narrowly accepting depending on what county they've been selected from, are we starting to see that in your field as well, people are getting more into their bubbles?

Preet Bharara:

Maybe, but there's a second thing that happens also in the courtroom. When rules apply, and it's not the informal norms such as they are on cable television, the judge tells the jurors every day, "You have to keep an open mind. You have to keep an open mind. You can't deliberate until all the cases in." And there's a formality about it. I was on a panel earlier today talking about the Russian investigation with Natasha Bertran, and she was reminding the audience of a criminal trial, the Paul Manafort case, where people had some concern about a juror who seemed to be a MAGA person in support of the president. And there was some reporting and talk about whether or not she was going to be able to deliberate because she had a particular point of view and maybe you would've thought that the Paul Manafort case was not good for the president, I don't know what the speculation was.

And that person ultimately voted to convict on various counts, and was persuaded by argument, not invective, under the rules that the court mandated, which is fairness, you can only make relevant points. You can't engage in personal attacks, you can't use nicknames. You can't make fun of people's physical appearance to make your legal point or legal argument. And that to me is a mild, one anecdote of a rebuttal to what you're saying.

Ian Bremmer:

You can't use nicknames? You're handcuffing the presidents.

Preet Bharara:

You can't say low energy, you can't call, you can't say if the lawyer is named Jeb, you can't call him low energy Jeb.

Ian Bremmer:

So give me a good lawyer joke. What's your favorite one?

Preet Bharara:

What's the difference between a catfish and a lawyer?

Ian Bremmer:

Lets see.

Preet Bharara:

One is a scum sucking bottom dweller, the other one's a fish. On demand. That was not bad.

Ian Bremmer:

Doing Justice is the book.

Preet Bharara:

Thanks Ian.

Ian Bremmer:

Well done.

Preet Bharara:

Thanks very much.

Ian Bremmer:

That's our show this week. We'll be right back here next week, same place, same time, unless you're watching on social media, in which cases, wherever you happen to be. Don't miss it. In the meantime, check us out at GZEROmedia.com.

Announcer:

The GZERO world is brought to you by our founding sponsor, First Republic. First Republic, a private bank and wealth management company, places clients' needs first, by providing responsive, relevant, and customized solutions. Visit firstrepublic.com to learn more.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform, to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.
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