President-elect Trump’s creative destruction of the established order in Washington continues to transfix the chattering classes and only a charlatan would claim to know where it all will end. Anti-corruption aficionados across the political spectrum are mesmerized by the spectacle of Mr. Trump’s vast business empire on a collision course with the presidency. In a series of dawn bulletins issued today via Twitter, Mr. Trump announced that “legal documents are being crafted which take me completely out of business operations.” Details to follow. How Mr. Trump resolves the issue will send up an important signal about the nature of the Trump Presidency. Another sign will come with his selection for the critical position of U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
The SDNY appointment is off the radar but should be watched closely. The office is one of the most important crime-fighting posts in the country. It’s been home to such law-enforcement legends as the trust-busting Henry Stimson, Tammany Hall foe Thomas E. Dewey, the visionary Robert M. Morgenthau and Mafia antagonist Rudy Giuliani. Its size, Manhattan location, jurisdiction over Wall Street and distance from the capital’s intrigues makes the SDNY a critical player in the U.S. justice system.
Today the SDNY is led by the crusading Preet Bharara, scourge of political corruption in seemingly every corner of New York state. And make no mistake: New York is in the midst of a corruption epidemic. Over the past decade, more than thirty lawmakers have been convicted or charged with wrongdoing. You can view the wall of shame here, courtesy of the New York Times. According to a recent Quinnipiac University poll, 87 percent of New Yorkers say government corruption is a serious problem. 87 percent! Among those sent to jail by Mr. Bharara are the former Speaker of the New York State Assembly, Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, and the former majority leader of the New York State Senate, Dean Skelos, a Republican. Corruption in New York is a bipartisan affair.
Silver and Skelos were two of the infamous “three men in a room” that control Albany. The third man is the governor of the state, currently Andrew Cuomo. Mr. Cuomo has not been charged with any wrongdoing, but earlier this month Mr. Bharara indicted eight men, including two former top aides to Cuomo, in a sweeping bribery and fraud scheme. A third former Cuomo aide has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with the investigation.
Mr. Bharara is also taking a close look at New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on several fronts, including fundraising, the activities of mayoral advisors, and the sale of a Long Island hospital. Judicial Watch has reported on the links between de Blasio, adviser Jonathan Rosen and real estate developer Bruce Ratner, a Democratic Party heavyweight.
Bharara is not the only prosecutor pressing forward in New York. The posse includes Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, who has beefed up his anti-corruption unit and pressed Albany for expanded powers for state prosecutors. And on Long Island, U.S. Attorney Robert Capers brought a corruption case against the powerful Republican leader of Nassau County, Edward Mangano. Sources tell me that political corruption on Long Island is rampant in both parties.
U.S. Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president and Mr. Trump has sent conflicting signals about Mr. Bharara’s future. In early November, a senior Trump campaign official told the Daily News that Mr. Trump was “seriously considering” asking Mr. Bharara to remain in the post, saying the Bharara anti-corruption crusade is “the same approach Mr. Trump would like to bring to Washington.” Days later, the rival New York Post reported that white collar defense attorney Marc Mukasey is on the short list to replace Bharara.
A respected attorney, the 49-year-old Mr. Mukasey has checked all the right boxes, including a staff position at the SEC and a stint as an appellate attorney at the SDNY. But the main factor placing him in contention for the powerful SDNY post appears to be his close relationship with Rudy Giuliani. Two years ago, Mr. Mukasey and Mr. Giuliani parted company with their law firm, Bracewell & Giuliani, to join Greenberg Traurig. At Bracewell, the New York Times noted, Mr. Mukasey handled cases involving the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and alleged mortgage fraud by Countrywide Financial. Other Mukasey clients include former Fox News chief Roger Ailes and GOP strategist Mike DuHaime. Mr. DuHaime, a top adviser to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, was called to testify in the Bridgegate trial. Mr. DuHaime managed Mr. Christie’s 2009 gubernatorial campaign and Mr. Giuliani’s 2008 presidential bid.
Of course it is the job of lawyers to have clients and everyone is entitled to a vigorous defense. And Mr. Bharara has political patrons too, notably Chuck Schumer. But Mr. Trump famously campaigned on “draining the swamp” and Mr. Bharara should be encouraged to finish the job he started. Replacing him sends the wrong signal. There are other places in a Trump Administration for a man of Mr. Mukasey’s talents. New York should keep Preet.
Don’t miss Judicial Watch’s special educational panel, “The First 100 Days The Anti-Corruption Agenda,” airing at 11:00 a.m. Tuesday, December 6. Panelists include former Attorney General Ed Meese, House Oversight Committee member Jim Jordan, SDNY alum Andrew McCarthy, Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies and JW’s own Ramona Cotca. View it live here: www.judicialwatch.org/live. More details here.