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Overreaching U.S. Attorney Who Subpoened Reason Commenters Refusing To Step Down

Saturday, March 11, 2017 12:41
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From The New York Times comes this tale of governmental insubordination:

Preet Bharara, the Manhattan federal prosecutor who was told to submit his resignation along with 45 others on Friday, has no plans to do so — forcing a potential showdown with President Trump and the Department of Justice [DOJ].

Mr. Bharara, whose office is overseeing a case against a top aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and an investigation into people close to Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City, has told several people that he did not hand in a resignation on Friday, as he was ordered to do by the acting deputy attorney general, Dana Boente.

He also does not intend to do so over the weekend, he said in conversations with associates, a move that could force the hand of the Trump administration.

I’m sure Bharara has his reasons but color me unimpressed. Bharara is a classic federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, always looking to make headlines as much as meaningful collars. He earned the enmity of Reason readers in 2015 when his office subpoenaed information about

the records of six people who left hyperbolic comments at the website about the federal judge who oversaw the controversial conviction of Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht. Shortly after the subpoena was issued, the government issued a gag order prohibiting Reason not only from discussing the matter but even acknowledging the existence of the subpoena or the gag order itself. As a wide variety of media outlets have noted, such actions on the part of the government are not only fundamentally misguided and misdirected, they have a tangible chilling effect on free expression by commenters and publications alike….

The subpoena also covered…harmless comments as: “I hope there is a special place in hell reserved for that horrible woman,” and “I’d prefer a hellish place on Earth be reserved for her as well.”

As Katherine Mangu-Ward noted last fall, it’s true that the Trump administration asked Bharara to stay on for a while. But that was then and this is now. And there’s something truly disturbing about a DOJ appointee who refuses to take a powder when asked, especially when there’s no larger question about executive-power overreach.

What is it that Barack Obama used to say? “Elections have consequences.” Presidents get to staff this level of service the way they want to. I don’t expect Donald Trump to be a champion of free speech, but removing Bharara from office is a small step in that direction.


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