An evening with the ‘Sheriff of Wall Street.’
NEW YORK: An hour or so before the second presidential debate commenced between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, on Sunday, where they verbally dueled on who is the evil incarnate, closer to their respective homes, an interesting question was posed to Preet Bharara, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, at the New York University: would he prosecute Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton for their egregious violations of laws?
Bharara’s answer: “next question”, came after a quick look around of the audience at the Rosenthal Pavilion atop the Kimmel Center, in Manhattan, with a smile on his face.
But the following question, this time from the founder of the Indo-American Arts Council, Aroon Shivdasani, at whose request Bharara had agreed to do the closing night honors of an annual literary festival which was attended by among others, Shashi Tharoor and Suketu Mehta, was on the same lines, asking if Trump would be prosecuted for myriad instances of breaking the law, including for the now defunct Trump University, and Clinton for her missing e-mails.
Even Seema Mody, the global markets reporter for CNBC, who earlier conducted an excellent Q&A with Bharara, jocularly goaded him on, tried to get an answer from the ‘Sheriff of Wall Street’ to perhaps one of the most important questions of this year’s race for the White House.
The answer from Bharara was, however, noncommittal and ambiguous, but gave a little bit more; yet remained anybody’s guess as to what he really would have said if only his closest confidante was present: “You expect me to comment on this in front of a hundred people…” before he trailed off, adding for good measure: “Next question.”
As more depressing facts (for the voters) are revealed of the two main presidential candidates, from their past, on a daily basis, including Trump’s defense of a rapist like Mike Tyson, and walking nonchalantly into a room where some beauty pageant participants were undressing; and an aide of Clinton discussing her missing e-mails case with the US Justice Department, it’s becoming clear to middle class and poor America that the rich and powerful are treated differently in the country.
Only Bharara and other esteemed top prosecutors like him can really answer the question and more importantly, take action on cases like the defunct Trump University allegedly defrauding students, or paying the campaigns of those looking into cases against Trump, or if a collusion between the Clinton campaign and the US Justice Department would fall under a form of ‘insider trading’, a term with which Bharara is very familiar with, has made him the most feared man on Wall Street.
It seems the common man and voter has been relegated to just watching the vitriolic debates and hate mongering campaign rallies of the two politicians, left to ponder on who indeed is the lesser evil of the two to seat in the White House. Voters have to decide if Clinton’s seemingly favoritism in the e-mails case weighs lesser on the negativity scale than Trump’s extreme xenophobia, racism, and divisive talk. Decide as to who among Trump and Clinton deserve to be perhaps prosecuted to a lesser extent.
Bharara, in the same conversation with Mody, entitled ‘Is Corruption Endemic to Politics?’, talking of his prosecution of Sheldon Silver, the former speaker of the New York State Assembly, had this to say: “One thing I can say about some politicians, who have been charged, is that at some point these people who take the oath to serve the public, feel they are not making as much money …Some people think like, ‘a lot of the folks are getting rich, when do I get my chance to do that.’”
God forbid if the US ever has to charge and prosecute a sitting US president for illegal activities! But to some extent irreparable damage has been done already.
As the pile of foul allegations against Trump and Clinton grows, it’s easy enough to forget the days when a daughter of President George W. Bush was arrested for alcohol related problems, or high profile politicians convicted for various misdeeds, including Chaka Fattah, Dennis Hastert, and Jesse Jackson Jr.
Those and other cases like those has made the US what the country is, both for its people and for the rest of the world: fair and balanced when it comes to dealing with the high and the mighty, especially in the political sphere. With this election cycle, however, a new era of cunningness and willfully deceiving the public seem to have set in, coming right from the top, from the man and woman who are vying to be the commander-in-chief of the free world. When there’s talk of jailing your opponent, what chance does the common man have to voice his or her grievance against them?
The unfortunate and more damaging part of this whole finger-pointing games and shenanigans being played by Clinton and Trump is that it’s not going to end after the elections in November. It’s likely that if Trump comes to power, more and more revelations will surface of his nefarious past, especially with women, and worse. The conservative right movement will too keep up their incessant demand to prosecute and jail Clinton, even if she becomes president.
It’s a no-win situation for voters who now find it hard to allow their young sons and daughters to watch politics on TV, to help prepare for student competitions, or just master the art and joy of just indulging in a good debate with their peers, or having some quality family time. Letting them play violent video games might be a better idea, as long as they can differentiate between the real and the screen world. There’s no way to help them differentiate between right and wrong watching Trump and Clinton go at each other on TV. It’s too real to fake.
Mody also grilled Bharara on all the controversial questions that have dogged him in his career, including the prosecution of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade and corporate honcho Rajat Gupta. He responded as he has in the past, not expressing regret for the way the cases were handled. He shifted the onus on the Justice Department for the way Khobragade’s case was handled. He also talked at length of the deep emotional hurt his family went through by all the unfair criticism which came his way. Bharara also took a dig at Khobragade’s father who had threatened then to go on a hunger fast if the case was not dropped against her, by saying: “I guess he must be a very thin man now.”
At one point during the interaction with the audience, Bharara brusquely and contemptuously dismissed a question from a member of the audience who asked him why he prosecuted high profile Indian-origin personalities.
Mody also asked Bharara if Indian culture condones endemic corruption, to which he retorted: “I do not think so. I am part of Indian culture. I am from Ferozepur. I think if one has been raised with the proper education and right values, whether Indian or American. I do not think this has something to do with the Indian culture.”
Perhaps, what Bharara, and others like him who uphold the justice and law in this country, should be asked is: ‘Should American voters condone blemished politicians fighting for the White House?’
(Sujeet Rajan is Editor-in-Chief, The American Bazaar. Follow him @SujeetRajan1)