In seeking "special treatment" for allies like former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn – and "worse treatment" for political adversaries like Hillary Clinton – President Trump's actions have had the effect of undermining the rule of law and some of the institutions that uphold it, says Preet Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Bharara, who was fired by Trump in 2016 after initially being told he would keep his job, said the president "doesn't follow the precepts" that underpin the phrase.
"To me, 'the rule of law' means that laws are not to be flouted," Bharara said. "They're to be applied equally, whether you're rich or poor, whether you're white or black, whether you're male or female. And that you put the law not only before particular preferences for folks, and without bias towards groups of people – whether people of color or otherwise – but also above politics."
In an interview with Intelligence Matters host and CBS News senior national security contributor Michael Morell, Bharara, who now hosts the "Stay Tuned" podcast, said Mr. Trump's attempted intervention on behalf of Flynn, his pressure on former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to rescind his recusal from the Russia probe, and Mr. Trump's suggestions that he would jail his political opponents "all…undermine the rule of law."
"He's the commander-in-chief. He's the leader of the country. He oversees the Justice Department," Bharara said. "[P]eople start to think, 'Well, maybe law enforcement is a game. Maybe the way these things are applied, it should matter if you're powerful or not powerful, and who's won. And you get a better chance at things than if you've lost or if you're in a minority position.'"
Bharara also offered observations on the testimony of former special counsel Robert Mueller, who appeared before two House committees last week.
"The overwhelming takeaway for me," Bharara told Morell, "is that the Mueller Report itself -- the thing that Bob Mueller did not want to amplify in any way or interpret in any way or gild in any way – that report stands, I think, as strong as it did before he testified."
Bharara added, however, that Mueller did not provide an adequately robust answer in response to questions about whether his report, by specifying it did "not exonerate" the president, improperly inverted the burden of proof.
"I think there's a good response to that," Bharara said, "I don't think he gave as full an answer as he might have to that."
The president, Bharara explained, is "the only person in the country, by virtue of his position, based on an Office of Legal Counsel memorandum and interpretation, who cannot be charged."
"So it is against this backdrop of a president having basically immunity while he is in office," Bharara said, that Mueller declined to conclude, "no matter how much evidence there was, that a crime was committed."
"And my sense is, given how much evidence there was on the obstruction side, that as a sort of a counterweight to that – and perhaps an indirect signal to future prosecutors after the president-elect leaves office, and possibly to Congress that has the impeachment power – he did not want it to look like a blessing of the conduct," Bharara told Morell.
Bharara also offered his personal view that, were Mr. Trump not the president, he would likely face obstruction charges based on the facts raised in Volume II of Mueller's report.
"Maybe not ten counts. Maybe not 11 counts. But some counts … I would bring, if it was not the president of the United States," Bharara said. "If it was an ordinary person, without doubt."
For much more from Michael Morell's conversation with Preet Bharara, you can read the transcript here and subscribe to "Intelligence Matters" here. You can also hear Bharara's interview of Morell on his "Stay Tuned" podcast, out this Thursday.