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Washington Memo: Taking On Gonzales

2 minute read
Massimo Calabresi

Look closely during upcoming Hill hearings into the U.S. Attorneys scandal, and there, whispering in Senator Chuck Schumer’s ear, you’ll see the person who has quietly powered the Senate’s expanding investigation. Preet Bharara, Schumer’s chief counsel on the Judiciary Committee, prosecuted the Colombo and Gambino crime families as an assistant U.S. Attorney before Schumer hired him in January 2005. Early this year, he began picking up complaints about the Bush Administration’s firing of the eight U.S. Attorneys from sources in the Justice Department and suggested Schumer hold hearings. Now he’s the point man on the probe.

Which puts him on the spot. His boss alleges that the Bush team may have obstructed justice by firing several of the prosecutors for investigating Republicans or for not investigating Democrats–a serious charge that the G.O.P. says is itself politically motivated. Bharara’s job is to make the case. An early victory: he got four of the U.S. Attorneys to testify, and two of them said they had felt political pressure. Bharara’s next step could challenge presidential power. The White House has said Rove will talk only in private and without a transcript, but Bharara plans to chip away by expanding subpoena authority to cover two of Rove’s deputies–Scott Jennings and Sara Taylor–and to ask for more White House documents.

He still has G.O.P. backers. Viet Dinh, former assistant AG to John Ashcroft and an author of the Patriot Act, has been his best friend since they had a nightlong argument freshman year at Harvard about what the framers of the Constitution thought of men’s souls. Dinh toes the G.O.P. line on the probe but believes “Preet can be trusted to follow the facts and take appropriate actions.” Gonzales testifies April 17.

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