Thursday, December 19, 2013

Preet Bharara Pours Gasoline on the Fire

Protests continue in India over diplomat's arrest. Thank you, Preet Bharara!


The raging diplomatic incident that has breached relations between the U.S. and India--the arrest of a deputy counsel general on visa charges--continued to simmer on Wednesday. TV reports showed images straight out of the sixties, with protesters burning American flags and an effigy (above). Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement of regret, and the furor lead off  Erin Burnett's CNN broadcast (hosted by Chris Cuomo) at 7 p.m.

It seemed that cooler heads were prevailing--for a few minutes. Then a not-so-cool head, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, stepped in, and proceeded to pour a gallon of Exxon Unleaded on the raging fire.

Bharara, whose ham-handed prosecution of the diplomat--charges carrying a fifteen-year prison term--touched off this entirely unnecessary diplomatic rupture with a key U.S. ally, was apparently feeling the heat. Or, perhaps, he didn't think that soothing U.S.-India ties were a good idea. Or something.

In a gratuitously nasty statement emailed to reporters at 7:25 p.m., Bharara defended not just his prosecution of the Indian counsel, Devyani Khobragade, but also the body-cavity search which so enraged Indians. It was not carried out by his office, but not to worry, Bharara was mad as hell and not going to take all the "inaccuracies" in the media anymore.

The New York Times called it "an unusual and robust public defense," and reported that "the tone of Mr. Bharara’s statement, issued in the evening in New York, seemed in marked contrast to an expression of  'regret' made earlier in the day by Secretary of State John Kerry." That's putting it mildly.

In a way, you have to admire Bharara for stepping up to the plate and slamming one into the stands (albeit, the ones behind him) with quite so much vigor.  A more astute prosecutor, or one desiring to  repair this international incident, would have either kept silent or leaked to the media about how Khobragade was allowed to keep her cell phone and was given a cup of coffee by the arresting officers, etc.

Bharara ended his statement by saying that "this Office's sole motivation in this case, as in all cases, is to uphold the rule of law, protect victims, and hold accountable anyone who breaks the law - no matter what their societal status and no matter how powerful, rich or connected they are."

He might have added: "... unless they are major bankers who precipitated the financial crisis of 2008. In that case, I'll find an excuse not to prosecute them."

Predictably, India did not react favorably to Bharara's statement. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs issued a response. CNN-IBN reported: "Taking a dig at the US Attorney prosecuting the case, MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said, 'The statement issued by Preet Bharara that the procedure followed in the Indian diplomat case is a standard practice for every defendant, rich or poor is a rhetorical remark and that is not conducisve in resolving inaccuracies.' " The Times of India reported further on the antagonism that Bharara generated  by his statement.

There's no question that India has overreacted, and also that there is another side to this story--the domestic worker whose complaint of underpayment resulted in this whole crisis. But there's a deeper issue here, one of judgment and prosecutorial priorities. It's been my belief for quite some time that Preet Bharara's are way out of whack. This whole episode not only confirms that, but shows that there is something seriously wrong with his judgment and temperament.

© 2013 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.
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My latest book is AYN RAND NATION: The Hidden Struggle for America's Soul, published by St. Martin's Press. Click here to order the book from Amazon.com, and here to order it from Barnes & Noble. Follow me on Twitter: @gary_weiss


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