On Tuesday morning, former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara did something he doesn’t do much anymore in his new life as a law professor, author and professional podcaster.
He wore a tie.
The occasion was the Compliance Week conference, an annual gathering in Washington where Bharara had delivered remarks years earlier as the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan. “Since then,” Bharara said, “I was fired by the president. So I don’t have to wear a tie quite so often.”
The buttoned-up style stopped at the clothing, as Bharara—once described in a New Yorker headline as “The Man Who Terrifies Wall Street”—gave joking reminders of his unceremonious ouster and riffed on the administration of President Donald Trump.
“People don’t mention it in the introduction because they think they’re being polite. But I was—I was fired,” Bharara said, pausing as the crowd broke out in laughter. “And I’m not unproud of that, by the way.”
His reflection on the beginning of his tenure as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York drifted to the news of the day—a New York Times report that Kris Kobach, the former secretary of state of Kansas, demanded around-the-clock access to a jet as a condition of becoming the Trump administration’s “immigration czar.” Among the other conditions were walk-in privileges with the president and assurances he would eventually be nominated to lead the Department of Homeland Security.
“Kris Kobach, who has certain views about immigration—and, as both an American and as an immigrant, I disagree with some of those views—apparently has been auditioning for the job of immigration czar and made various demands that have been reported in The New York Times. If I had known you could make demands like that, I might’ve asked for a couple things,” Bharara said. “He asked for ready access to a jet to go home on weekends. Basically no-knock entry to the oval office. Jelly beans. Moon pies.”
“I made no such demands, just, ‘Please don’t kick me out.’”
The Trump administration on Tuesday was reportedly expected to pick former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli for the immigration policy role.
Bharara spoke the same morning as Stefan Passantino, who served as a top deputy under Trump’s former White House counsel, Donald McGahn. Passantino, now a partner at Michael Best & Friedrich, had been tasked with standing up and running what he called the “ethics and compliance program for the Trump administration.”
“I knew what I signed up for when I signed up for it. I got what I signed up for,” he said, drawing laughter from the crowd.
Passantino said his role in the White House Counsel’s Office was not to represent any individual but rather the “institution of the presidency.” McGahn elevated the compliance role inside the White House Counsel’s Office “due in no small part,” Passantino said, to “having sort of seen, based on his work on the campaign, that possibly in this administration ethics might be an issue and it might help to have somebody with a little bit grayer hair come in who was going to be able to do that.”
Passantino said he was hired to handle the on-boarding process for administration after years of counseling former House speakers, including Newt Gingrich, on political compliance issues.
“I guess there was some degree of thinking, ‘Well, if this person can help keep Newt Gingrich on the straight and narrow for 20 years, then maybe this is our guy. So I was brought in for that purpose,” Passantino said.
Passantino said the administration presented challenges with a number of officials who had not previously served in government and had “not traditionally even served in public companies.”
In private practice, Passantino is representing Trump and his businesses in an effort to prevent House Democrats from obtaining years of financial records. A federal judge this week denied Trump’s bid to block his longtime accounting firm from providing records to the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
On Tuesday, Trump’s legal team took the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.