Preet Bharara being drafted for war on Trump

 In Politics

Preet Bharara is seeing all the texts, phone calls and DMs urging him to run for New York attorney general, including from some top operatives and Democratic donors. He’s hearing it from people coming up to him on the street.

And though Bharara is leaning against making a play for the job, according to three people close to him, the onetime powerhouse U.S. attorney fired by Donald Trump pointedly hasn’t said no, either. He wants to see how the next few weeks play out.

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Among the people who’ve reached out, the sources said, are Mike Bloomberg consigliere Howard Wolfson and independent-minded GOP consultant John Weaver, along with a host of top Democratic operatives, donors and fundraisers.

“He’s the Eliot Ness that we need today,” said Weaver, who confirmed that he reached out to Bharara despite not previously knowing him. “I understand that he wouldn’t want to campaign, and it would be distasteful. [But] in this case, it would be a crusade. And crusades are never distasteful.”

The pleas are partly a response to the sainted status that Bharara has achieved since he forced President Donald Trump to fire him last year by refusing to resign. But they’re also a sign of dissatisfaction with how the field of candidates for the plum law enforcement post is shaping up. The key qualifications are less about legal skills and more about who can navigate muddy New York politics compounded by the backroom machinations of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Then there’s the acknowledgment, mostly in quiet conversations among New York political insiders, that for an office with such a staggering portfolio, the list of announced and potential candidates doesn’t quite represent the best of New York City’s world-class roster of legal talent. In addition to rooting out corruption on Wall Street and in Albany, the New York AG’s office has taken the lead in suing the Trump administration on multiple fronts.

“It’s never going to be a complete universe,” said Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), when asked last week whether she felt the candidates already in discussion were the best New York has to offer.

“I don’t think we should pick an attorney general specifically to go after Trump,” said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), when asked last week if he thought the candidates currently in the field were ready to take on the president.

The candidate with the early momentum is Letitia James, currently New York City’s Public Advocate, who declared her candidacy on Wednesday and is backed by several unions and members of the New York City Council. James is believed to have the blessing of Cuomo and the powerful speaker of the State Assembly, Carl Heastie.

Other Democrats are considering bids, including Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.); Democratic state Sen. Mike Gianaris of Queens; Leecia Eve, a Verizon executive; and law professor Zephyr Teachout, who challenged Cuomo in a 2014 primary and ran for Congress in 2016.

Engel’s view is troubling to people eager to see the office continue being a leader in the fight, despite Eric Schneiderman’s resignation in disgrace after being accused of hitting multiple women.

The New York attorney general office is particularly important because it has jurisdiction over Trump Tower and many other Trump properties. Schneiderman had also been pushing to be a backstop on potential federal pardons from Trump.

“You need a smart, forward-thinking lawyer who has got a steel backbone and is really not afraid of what comes at him when doing the right thing,” said New Jersey attorney general Gurbir Grewal. “Now it’s important to have somebody particularly who’s got the background that someone like Preet has — being a prosecutor, having stood up for victims, having been in the fight before.”

Bharara has been paying attention to the maneuvering to replace Schneiderman, the sources close to him said. He’s neither made any plans nor had serious conversations about running, though he’s heard the speculation that he could run either in the Democratic primary or as an independent in the general election.

In the 14 months since he was fired, Bharara has been a regular on CNN, and done some podcasting and teaching. But he’s plainly been missing the fight: He has joked that he wishes he still had subpoena power — and for a man who’s always loved the spotlight, being on the sidelines is frustrating, people who’ve talked to him say.

But he’s also authentically averse to the glad-handing and horse-trading of politics. And for all his aspirations, he’s never wanted an office he’d have to run for.

Asked in a POLITICO “Off Message” podcast in September whether politics was in his future, he said flatly, “no,” and that anyone who believed he’d been setting himself up for a run was wrong.

There might just be something poetic to this situation, though: a campaign that seems to be calling out for an independent voice, on the grounds of a mission against Trump and the system rather than the usual political stepping stone, contrasted with the disgust at Schneiderman’s behavior. The campaign would unfold in so brief a span of time that it would enable him to avoid most of the sucking up to county chairs, fundraising and other downsides of politics.

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