NEW YORK (AP) - As Manhattan’s top federal prosecutor, Preet Bharara cultivated an image as a lawman above politics. No more.
In the three months since he was fired by President Donald Trump, the former U.S. attorney has lashed out at the Republican administration in speeches and on Twitter. He’s also jabbed at the president of Turkey, called one GOP congressman a “fool,” and said if another were an immigrant, he’d face deportation.
With the constraints of a law enforcement job gone, Bharara has found a more political voice for himself, especially online.
He has already been approached by Democrats who want him to run for elected office as soon as next year.
People close to Bharara say he’s eager to maintain an active voice in the political debate - particularly anything to do with the president who forced him from the job he loved. It remains unclear, however, if the 48-year-old India-born attorney will continue to speak out as a private citizen or as a political candidate.
Some friends want him to enjoy his new post as a “distinguished scholar” at New York University, where he is contemplating writing a book or contributing to his brother’s media site. Others want him to join a private law firm, where his experience battling public corruption could be put to practical use.
“A lot of people want a lot of things from Preet. I’m not sure Preet wants any of that for himself,” said former Justice Department attorney Viet Dinh, a close friend of Bharara’s since college. “Right now, what he wants to do is spend time with his family, enjoy a quasi-academic perch and take a breath.”
Bharara declined to be interviewed for this story, but friends and colleagues paint the picture of a man who has no plans to disappear from the spotlight after being forced out after seven years leading the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan - a region that covers Trump Tower.
The conditions are already in place for a transition from federal prosecutor to political prospect.
Already, a captivated New York media is quick to promote Bharara’s Twitter feed, which is packed with slaps at Trump and other Republicans.
He tweeted Wednesday that “people - including presidents - reap what they sow.” Last week, he went after California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher: “One benefit of being a private citizen is that I can now publicly say that Rep. Rohrabacher is a fool.”
And in March, he threw shade at New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose administration was plagued by the so-called Bridgegate controversy: “Yes, we all know that Chris Christie is great at spotting & screening out problematic staff,” he wrote.
At the same time, Bharara wears his dismissal as a badge of honor, even if he’s not quite over the hangover of losing the job Trump once told him he could keep. The president fired Bharara in March as part of a broader effort to replace U.S. attorneys appointed by President Barack Obama.
“I loved that place like people love their family,” Bharara said during an April speech at Manhattan’s Cooper Union. “I was asked to resign. I refused. I insisted on being fired, so I was.”
The dismissal may have helped Bharara’s political career, should he want one.
A Siena College poll released after his March dismissal found that 37 percent of New Yorkers had a favorable opinion compared with 13 percent who view him unfavorably; 50 percent didn’t know enough about him to have an opinion.
“Prior to being fired by Donald Trump, he was an incredible talent. Being fired by Donald Trump took him to another level,” said veteran Democratic strategist Steve Elmendorf. “The only thing blocking his future, I’d say, is that he wasn’t born in the United States so he can’t run for president. He’s as qualified as anyone.”
Others have made similar leaps from federal prosecutor to high-profile elected office, including Rudy Giuliani, who held the same U.S. attorney post as Bharara in the 1980s and became New York City’s mayor, and Christie, who went straight from being the top federal prosecutor in New Jersey to governor.
Yet there are significant hurdles as Bharara considers a future in politics.
Enamored Democratic strategists have encouraged him to run for office, but New York’s political landscape is crowded and hostile.
Ambitious Democrats are already entrenched in the most logical landing spots for the coming years at least. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is preparing for re-election in 2018 and may seek the presidency in 2020. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is already eyeing the governor’s mansion in the coming years. And New York City’s mayoral election is just five months away.
And while his Twitter feed gets a lot of attention, his friends point to the Cooper Union speech as a guide for how he plans to stay relevant, at least in the short-term.
“As a private citizen, I am surrendering neither my voice, nor my law degree, nor my citizenship,” Bharara said. “And I really do hope that those remain potent tools to effect change in America, because God help us - because God help us - if we have to count only on people in public office to make a difference.”
“And by the way, I don’t have any plans to enter politics,” he added. “Just like I have no plans to join the circus.”
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