As Preet Bharara approaches his sixth anniversary as the powerful United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, with a track record of successful, attention-grabbing prosecutions that have made him the envy of his peers, it’s hard not to think that he is looking and sounding more and more like a candidate for higher office.
You may not have noticed, but the Indian-born, Harvard-educated Bharara, now 46, has been making the rounds. Beyond the usual spate of public appearances at New York–area law schools and convocations of lawyers, he has been a regular commencement speaker and has even begun to appear on the celebrity circuit. Last fall, the writer Bryan Burrough interviewed him at the inaugural Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit in San Francisco. “It’s great to be here with all these cool people,” he told Burrough. Then, in February, a tuxedo-clad Bharara made an appearance at the Vanity Fair Oscar party in Los Angeles. “The ‘Enforcer of Wall Street’ and wife Dalya mingled with Hollywood royalty,” crooned Page Six, the New York Post’s popular gossip feature.
The recent accolades are not undeserved. Bharara’s performance in office has indeed been impressive, and he is fresh off the high-profile surrender (and subsequent resignation) of Sheldon Silver, the supremely powerful speaker of the New York State Assembly, on charges of political corruption. Bharara’s ongoing investigation of bad behavior in Albany has sent shudders through the state capital, as politicians of every stripe wonder just how far up and down the food chain it will go. In this, he has been fearless.
But beyond Bharara’s high-mindedness and toughness lies a prosecutor at a crossroads: Not only is Bharara, like Obama, probably reaching the end of his time in office (a new president generally likes to have his or her own appointee in such an important seat), but he is also, for the first time, beset by a spate of recent judicial challenges, rulings, and setbacks that have many questioning whether he has veered into overly aggressive behavior. These include an appeals-court reversal of two major insider-trading convictions—a ruling that has tarnished his extraordinary record of prosecuting insider trading and now threatens many of the other convictions as well—and a lawsuit connected to those reversals, which alleges that Bharara and his fellow prosecutors obtained a search warrant under false pretenses that led to the dissolution of a hedge fund because of the negative publicity that inevitably resulted. Both cases raise the specter of whether a powerful prosecutor has overstepped his bounds.
On the surface, anyway, Bharara seems to be taking these nettlesome challenges in stride. And while Time magazine put him on its cover with the banner This Man Is Busting Wall St. more than three years ago, it is only lately that Bharara’s barnstorming is starting to have the look and feel of quasi–campaign rallies.