The following is a transcript of an interview with Preet Bharara, former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, that aired on “Face the Nation” on April 2, 2023.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to Face The Nation. Joining us now is the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara. Good morning.
PREET BHARARA: Morning.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I do want to mention to our viewers as well, that you obviously know New York very well. But you also know, the district attorney, Alvin Bragg.
BHARARA: I do.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You hired him at one point.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You endorsed him when he ran for this office.
BHARARA: I did and I supervised him for a while as well.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay. So, I want to dig into your knowledge of that man, who is now very much in the spotlight. But let me start first on the case itself. The previous District Attorney of Manhattan didn’t prosecute this case, your former office, the Southern District of New York, also chose at the federal level not to move ahead with it. So what do you think is different this time?
BHARARA: We don’t know. I know the man pretty well. Alvin Bragg, as you said, Excuse me. I don’t know what the charges are. We’ve been speculating about them. Maybe there’s new evidence, different people who are reasonable, like Cy Vance is and like Alvin Bragg is, can come to different conclusions about different matters. You know, there were two prosecutors in Alvin Bragg’s office, who resigned with great fanfare over a different set of charges that might have been brought against Donald Trump. And there was a difference of opinion about that. Alvin Bragg is a careful person based on my experience with him, a deliberate person, not an overtly political person. And he decided based on things that we don’t know about yet, because we haven’t seen the indictment, or any evidence at trial, that it was a worthwhile case to bring. I can’t, you know, speculate as to why Cy Vance didn’t bring the case, or why my former office didn’t bring the case. Although, there are some reasons to think maybe it was because they were concerned that Michael Cohen had not been fully forthcoming, and they have a policy of not putting on witnesses, as cooperating witnesses, if they haven’t divulged everything about themselves and everyone else, that was a policy that was in place when I was the U.S. Attorney. So different policies, different legal considerations may be the reason why there’s a divergence, but we don’t know for sure.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So one of the things that CBS News has confirmed here is that the former president is being charged with falsifying business records in the first degree, which is that class E felony?
MARGARET BRENNAN: If I understand it correctly, and that would require them to prove, in other words have evidence here, that it’s more than the misdemeanor of falsifying records, that it was done to hide a second crime. That seems fairly complex, what kind of evidence do you need to have there?
BHARARA: So it’s not that complex, it’s done all the time. So the predicate offense, falsification of business records, is pretty simple. It seems to have been conceded in large part by various people, including some of the President’s own lawyers, that on the business records of the company, it has been suggested that the payments made to Stormy Daniels and other payments were legal fees when they obviously weren’t. Michael Cohen was a pass through for, you know, one hundred plus thousand dollars to someone else. And then the other crime, we believe to be campaign finance violation.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But, that part is fairly novel here. In fact, the former Manhattan district attorney, Cy Vance, was on another network this morning, making that point he said, ‘we’ve historically filed cases of false documentation to a felony level when federal statutes were involved, but has never- this has never been done with regard to federal election law.’ So would the Alvin Bragg you know, who you said doesn’t really take a lot of risks here and is not political, would he take this risk?
BHARARA: Well, he’s probably done legal analysis and his people have told him that you can have a federal crime be the thing that’s being concealed or being furthered by the falsification crime. And just because it’s never been a campaign finance violation before, I’m sure his people have told him and have research to back this up, that there’s no distinction between one kind of federal violation or another. So it is true that that’s not been tested in court and there’s gonna be legal challenges here. I don’t think anybody thinks and I haven’t heard anybody say, even though we haven’t seen the charges yet, it’s a slam dunk, 100 percent winner. But, I believe based on the Alvin Bragg that I know who was careful and was so careful as not to bring that other case that people were clamoring for him to bring, that he has sound legal ground to bring this one.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The former Trump Attorney General Bill Barr spoke about the indictment in interview Friday. I want to hear what he had to say.
BARR SOT: It’s the archetypal abuse of the prosecutorial function to engage in a political hit job and legally, I think it’s- it’s from what I understand it’s- it’s a pathetically weak case.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You just told us that Alvin Bragg is not overtly political. That’s the exact opposite impression from the former Attorney General.
BHARARA: Well, there are a lot of people who think the former Attorney General was overtly political and weaponized the Justice Department. So it’s- it’s a little bit rich to hear him calling someone else political.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But on the grounds that he says ‘pathetically weak’ case.
BHARARA: Yeah, well, we don’t know that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You’re saying until these charges are unsealed Tuesday, no one can speak with authority.
BHARARA: I feel I’ve been talking about the case because I think we have some credible reporting and I think we have, you know, good sources who are telling us what the case might be about and we have Michael Cohen talking about it. It does feel a little funny given my prior job, to be openly speculating about the strength of the case before we’ve seen what the charges are. And by the way, even when we see the charges, we won’t necessarily know what all the evidentiary basis for those charges are. I believe it’ll be a speaking indictment, which is parlance for lots of- more detail than you sometimes need to have an indictment. But we don’t know the quality of the evidence. We can speculate about the credibility issues that Michael Cohen has, but beyond that, you know, we know some of the documents, we know some of the checks that are signed in Donald Trump’s own name to reimburse Michael Cohen for the hush money payment, 11 checks in all, that continued, by the way, into Donald Trump’s term as president when he was sitting in the Oval Office. But we don’t all have all the evidence. And what’s interesting to me is when people attack Alvin Bragg ahead of time, for being political, and being weak, they are themselves doing the exact same thing, defending someone who is their political ally.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We’re going to talk about some of that later on with another guests on the show on the politics of this, but because you know, Alvin Bragg, and this is the- I mean, Republicans aren’t unified on a lot of things these days, but the unified Republican defense of Trump is not to talk at all about the case being built against him, but rather to attack Bragg himself. How would you characterize him in terms of policy? He ran as a Democrat to this office, is- does he have higher political ambitions? So
BHARARA: I don’t know that he does. When I said he’s not overtly political. Obviously, every district attorney in almost every jurisdiction in the country, with the exception of a few is a political office, you run for office. The Alvin Bragg that I know has always thought about the facts and the law. And I keep going back to this point, if he was so overtly political, and didn’t mind bringing pathetically weak cases, and he was on a witch hunt to get Donald Trump, by whatever means possible and as soon as possible, he would have brought this other case that very well respected prosecutors in his office were adamantly urging him to bring, and he didn’t. To me that indicates and look, this case may fail, it may not go well, maybe it’ll be dismissed. I don’t think so because I think the law is probably on Alvin Bragg’s side, but we’ll see. Maybe he’ll lose at trial, but the idea that this is frivolous, when someone who has gone to prison, who’s less culpable and gone to prison at the direction of the person we’re talking about now, Donald Trump, the idea that this is frivolous, or purely political, or stupid or anything else is nonsensical.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Because falsifying business records on its face, whether it’s a misdemeanor or a felony is still a crime.
BHARARA: Yeah, there should be one standard of justice, right? And if there’s a crime that’s being brought, that’s being charged against people in New York City, on a regular basis, and in particular, has been charged in this kind of context, than to say that someone because he was the former President of the United States should get away with it doesn’t seem right. I understand the concerns, the potential democratic concerns, I’m not giving them short shrift, that if you’re going to charge a former president in an unprecedented way, you want to be careful. You want to have your T’s crossed, your I’s dotted, you want to do it not in a casual way. You want to be very, very serious about it, and explain in the documents that you file in court and in the indictment, that this is serious, and someone else has gone to prison for this. And I get that we don’t want to be in a position where we’re incentivizing local prosecutors to do this kind of thing, but on the other hand, it is not frivolous. It is not silly.
MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Preet Bharara, thank you for your insights today. We’ll be right back.