Former federal prosecutor and outspoken White House critic Preet Bharara said he decided to raise money in Ohio on Sunday for Democrat Steven Dettelbach, a former U.S. attorney running for state attorney general, because both men understand the rule of law and how it applies to everyone.
“When I see someone like Steve Dettelbach doing the very difficult work of running for office, the least I can do is come out and support him any way I can,” Bharara said in telephone interview on Sunday while traveling from Columbus to Cleveland, where he was headlining the day’s second Dettelbach fundraiser.
Bharara said it was only the second time he has helped raise money for a candidate since being fired by President Donald Trump as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York in March 2017. Bharara and Dettelbach’s stints as U.S. attorneys mostly overlapped. They said they worked together on U.S. Justice Department advisory committees during that time.
“My foray into politics is limited,” Bharara said. “But I think I know enough about Steve to speak about him.”
The appearances come in a contest for attorney general being closely watched nationally. Dettelbach is viewed as among Democrats’ best shots at claiming a top cop spot from Republicans.
He faces Republican Auditor Dave Yost, a former county prosecutor, for the post currently held by Republican Mike DeWine. DeWine is term-limited and running for governor.
“This campaign is about something pretty simple,” Dettelbach said. “There’s one set of rules that applies to everybody.”
During the last reporting period, Dettelbach said he raised nearly $1.1 million to Yost’s roughly $650,000 — although Yost had $2 million in the bank to Dettelbach’s $1.5 million.
Bharara and Dettelbach both served as U.S. attorneys during the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama. While they both pursued high-profile public corruption cases against both Democrats and Republicans, the Republican Attorneys General Association painted the relationship as more evidence that Dettelbach was a Washington insider.
“Steve Dettelbach’s extensive time in Washington, D.C., career climbing, made him some high profile liberal friends, like Hillary Clinton and Preet Bharara,” said association spokesman Zack Roday. “They don’t understand Ohio values and neither does Steve Dettelbach.”
Dettelbach, 52, served as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio from 2009 to 2016. He previously worked as an attorney at the Justice Department, the Senate Judiciary Committee and served on the Ohio Ethics Commission.
As U.S. attorney, Bharara prosecuted Wall Street insiders and New York politicians along with cases involving organized crime, terrorism and gang violence. He took office in 2009 and was fired after refusing to resign as part of a housecleaning of U.S. attorneys by the Trump administration. His dismissal would not have been unusual except that he said he had been told by Trump that he would be kept on.
Bharara said Sunday that he is not political, although Trump and his administration are the primary targets of his criticism. He said that puts him on the same page as a lot of people, including prominent Republicans.
“I think it’s important for people to say what they think,” Bharara said. “I know how law enforcement works and how it’s supposed to work.”
Yost campaign spokesman Kevin Servick said of the visit, “DC Dettelbach wants to be in Washington, not here in Ohio. He’s already shown he doesn’t understand Ohio law, and hopes his liberal DC buddies can help him get into office, so he can do their bidding.”