Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and the man TIME magazine credits with "busting Wall Street," discussed the importance of a prosecutor's integrity during a visit to the law school March 4.
Since taking office in 2009, Bharara has led the prosecution of the Times Square bomber and an Al Qaeda plotter and negotiation of a guilty plea from Bernie Madoff's brother. His office has investigated and litigated many other federal criminal cases involving domestic and international terrorism, narcotics and arms trafficking, white collar crime, public corruption, gang violence and civil rights violations.
Bharara said he manages this enormous responsibility by maintaining a culture of transparency, honesty and independence.
A good prosecutor, Bharara said, possesses a "moral compass" and a strong ethical code, since a criminal prosecution often results in a consequence of great magnitude - someone's life or death, liberty or incarceration. Comparing job applicants who relish the prospect of locking people up to cowboys, Bharara urged the students to remember that criminals are humans with families of their own.
Yet, he said, prosecutors must be also be fearless and sufficiently thick-skinned to endure criticism they will inevitably face for their decisions.
Answering questions from Professor Anil Kalhan, Bharara discussed the importance of prosecutorial independence, which became an issue after U.S. attorneys were dismissed by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2006. At the time, Bharara worked as chief counsel for a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee that investigated the firings and learned that political considerations were at work.
Bharara also fielded students' questions about National Security Administration surveillance, deferred prosecution and other topics.
While domestic surveillance policies warrant review, Bharara said, it is not possible to make that process transparent to the degree that many people would favor.