Diversity in the law is critical but the binding force of commonality will always be the greater strength, former Southern District U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara told nearly 100 current and former summer law fellows on Wednesday.
The Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy fellows were part of an outside nonprofit initiative called Sponsors for Educational Opportunity, which promotes young people from underserved and underrepesented communities in a number of professions.
Bharara, an immigrant himself, spoke of the power of achievement from members of just such achievements in inspiring members of the community to strive for more. He referenced former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the first African-American to hold the position, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic on the nation’s highest court, and other recent firsts in the legal world as beacons that others, such as the young attorneys-in-training on hand, could follow.
“The first-time achievement inside a community is something like a mini-Moon Landing: it expands, or it can expand, horizons,” he said.
Pulling from his own experience, Bharara said he understood the challenges faced by those trying to make it in a field where they find few who look like them, come from their countries of origin, or come from the same cultural background.
When he was a young line attorney in the Southern District in the early 2000s working alongside Joon Kim, the current Southern District acting U.S. attorney, Bharara said an agent regularly referred to them as “Harold and Kumar,” referencing a cult film about the extracurricular adventures of two friends, one Korean-American and one Indian-American.
“I was Kumar,” Bharara noted.
A spokeswoman for the Southern District U.S. Attorney’s office said Acting U.S. Attorney Kim confirmed that he was Harold in the situation.
Despite these challenges, the opportunities provided by his adopted homeland and the unique role the law plays in American society helped open the door for both he and Kim to eventually rise to lead the Southern District office.
“The point of diversity—whether in the White House, in a law firm, or some other workplace—is not for each group to simply co-exist, in separate silos, speaking only to their own, or tending only to their own,” Bharara said. “It’s to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts, so we are free to absorb wisdom, and we are encouraged by people who are otherwise different from us.”
The event Wednesday was the latest public engagement for the former federal prosecutor in the weeks since his confrontation with the White House over being fired by President Donald Trump. Bharara hasn’t shied from being critical of Trump, his team, or the circumstances of his dismissal, often sharing his views on Twitter, where he has gained a following for his cutting, quick-witted quips on the ongoing Russian investigation drama.
On Wednesday, Bharara remained in form, taking barely-veiled shots at the administration, targeting specifically Kasowitz Benson Torres partner Marc Kasowitz.
On Tuesday, ProPublica reported that Kasowitz, who is now serving as Trump’s counsel on the FBI’s Russia collusion probe, had taken responsibility for convincing Trump to fire Bharara. On Wednesday, Bharara thanked Milbank for hosting the event, noting that his appearance would have been more awkward had it have been before Kasowitz Benson fellows.
Bharara mentioned the reports of Kasowitz “bragging” about the firing, referring to the claim as “mildly obnoxious.”
“I can say whatever I want now,” he told the room, eliciting laughs.
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