In the span of under two years, I have gone from someone sensibly skeptical of law enforcement to a regular pilgrim to the chapel of Saint Mueller. How did this happen?
I blame Preet Bharara.
Preet Bharara, for the uninitiated, is the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. He rose to above-average prominence for a federal prosecutor a) after it came out that the prosecutor character played by Paul Giamatti in the Showtime show Billions was loosely based on him, b) because he led the most influential federal prosecution team in the nation, which covers New York City, one so full of hubris it is often joked that they believe their jurisdiction is “the solar system,” and c) he was fired by Trump after having been first asked to stay on, in a manner that had a certain whiff of Trumpian “I expect loyalty” mob boss style.
And then he got a podcast.
The podcast offered balm to my too-raw, Trump-battered soul. He explained federal law succinctly, with a self-deprecating and aww-shucks style. He taught me about emoluments and gave me insight on how to flip a witness (skills I’ll put in my back pocket if I ever need to seriously interrogate my teenagers). He gave me a glimpse of a world filled with order.
He had other prosecutors on his show. I followed them on Twitter, and read their breakdowns of unfurling events, learning about sentencing guidelines and what’s expected of a cooperator. I set alerts for his tweets, so that I could see them in real time. I clung to their legalistic pronouncements in a world gone mad.
It occurred to me last week, when Michael Cohen withdrew his offer to come in to testify before Congress, that I may have been, if not misled, then allowed myself to be seduced by an overly simplistic view. Prosecutors have one set of arrows in their quivers. But those are not the only weapons we have to combat the crazy of what’s going on. Politics got us into this mess – media, and apathy, and misinformation, and fame-seeking – and politics also has a role to play in getting us out. Believing that everyone should step aside and let Mueller do his work, as capable and thorough as he appears to be, is abdicating our responsibility. Call your representatives and tell them to get to the bottom of all this graft and malfeasance.
Sure, I still keep an ear trained for pealing bells from the chapel of Saint Mueller, but I also try to remind myself that what brought down Nixon wasn’t just the special prosecutor, not Cox, or Jaworski, but the public reaction to the revelation that the Oval Office was bugged. This happened during a televised Congressional hearing, far away from any courtroom or legal brief.
Do I appreciate the knowledge I’ve gained in watching the legal process reveal itself before us? I do. But is it the only way to effect change in these troubling times? It isn’t. It doesn’t take a law degree to stand up and say, “It’s time to take back our country.”