New York's Attorney Hears A Backlash From India

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara answers Indian critics who say he's a "self-loathing Indian." NPR's Scott Simon talks with the top New York City prosecutor about the attacks against him.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Preet Bharara's name is in the news most every week. As U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York, Mr. Bharara has prosecuted international terrorists, mobsters and corrupt New York polls, bankers and traders, and at least one accused cannibal. But he's also been criticized in India, the land of his birth, for prosecuting Indian nationals, including Rajat Gupta and Anil Kumar in the Galleon Group insider trading investigation, and for arresting an Indian diplomat for making false statements to bring a low-wage housekeeper into the U.S.

Last month, Mr. Bharara addressed Harvard Law School's Class Day. And he urged graduates to remember the power of the law and be humble about their own. And he spoke for the first time about the personal accusations from Indian commentators. Preet Bharara joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us, sir.

PREET BHARARA: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: Has this kind of personal criticism hurt you?

BHARARA: You know, I think part of the job, when you're a prosecutor or any kind of public official, is to deal with criticism. You know, I thought that I had an interesting forum talking to several hundred people who were about to graduate from law school and thought I'd be a little bit more personal in talking about how you deal with issues that arise, whether you're a new lawyer or you've been a lawyer around for a long time as a prosecutor like I was. And I tried to explain through a personal story how I came to that conclusion myself.

SIMON: Can't you dismiss the criticism like the one you quoted of an Indian talk show host who referred to you as a self-loathing Indian?

BHARARA: Yeah. Yes, that I think is criticism that you can end up being dismissive of. And a lot of people in the country of my birth, for whatever reason, began to think that it was something having to do with me personally, even though had they inquired a little bit, would have discovered that this office brings cases based on the facts and the law. And it doesn't matter, you know, who you are and what you look like and where you're from. And that was something, I think, people didn't often get. And it's sort of interesting, I think, for folks sometimes, particularly from the country of my birth, to speculate - and in this case, not to speculate, but outright allege that there was something self-loathing in the conduct of a professional U.S. attorney's office.

SIMON: Mr. Bharara, I didn't know until watching the video of your speech at Harvard - you're a funny guy.

BHARARA: (Laughing). Thanks for saying that. Now you've raised expectations for this interview unfortunately.

SIMON: (Laughing). Well, let me set up a line for you. You told graduates of the Harvard Law School they should get to know people in the business school.

BHARARA: I did. I said, you know, I had a productive trip. I had arrived the night before, stopped at the business school, left off a couple of subpoenas, arrested three guys for insider trading. Now, in all seriousness, I do spend a lot of time talking not just to lawyers in my job, but also to people who are in business - CEOs of companies, boards of directors.

I joke when I begin my talks at the business schools by saying, you know, I'm not really here to direct my words to the ears of the two or three of you who statistically speaking will commit serious securities fraud - although I know who you are - but to direct my words to the vast majority of people at your business school or any institution, who want to do the right thing - who are honorable and ethical. And unfortunately, in case after case after case, whether you're talking about financial institutions like I've mentioned or you're talking about a place like Penn State, a lot of pain is caused because a lot of people who knew better and wanted to do the right thing, didn't - didn't stand up and defend the rights of others.

SIMON: You spoke at some length at Harvard about humility. Do Harvard Law people, as you noted type A people, have a particular need to feel humble?

BHARARA: I think so. I think people who have done very very well in life - you start to begin to believe a little bit of the press about you. And you start to believe that you're infallible. And I think that's a problem. And I think that causes people to make mistakes. You have to think for a moment every so often and probably more than just a moment am I completely wrong about this. Maybe the other point-of-view is the better point-of-view. And that's basically what I mean about humility.

SIMON: Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the southern district, speaking with us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

BHARARA: Thanks very much for having me.

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