• Show Notes
  • Transcript

Jared Cohen is the author of the new book “Life After Power: Seven Presidents and Their Search for Purpose Beyond the White House.” The book explores how former presidents—from Thomas Jefferson to George Bush—transition after reaching the height of power. Cohen joins me to discuss the lives of these seven men and what we can learn from them about power, change, and purpose. 

Plus, will Trump appeal the DC Circuit Court of Appeals’s decision in his absolute immunity defense to the Supreme Court? And, what should we make of Fulton County DA Fani Willis’s response to the relationship allegations between her and special prosecutor Nathan Wade? 

Have a question for Preet? Ask @PreetBharara on Threads, or Twitter with the hashtag #AskPreet. Email us at staytuned@cafe.com, or call 669-247-7338 to leave a voicemail. 

Stay Tuned with Preet is brought to you by CAFE and the Vox Media Podcast Network.

Executive Producer: Tamara Sepper; Editorial Producer: Noa Azulai; Deputy Editor: Celine Rohr; Technical Director: David Tatasciore; Audio Producers: Matthew Billy and Nat Weiner.



  • “Trump built the Supreme Court’s conservative majority, but it doesn’t always rule in his favor,” NBC News, 1/3/2024
  • “Fani Willis admits relationship with prosecutor on Trump Georgia case,” WaPo, 2/2/2024



Preet Bharara:

From CAFE and the Vox Media Podcast Network, welcome to Stay Tuned. I’m Preet Bharara.

Jared Cohen:

These days, retirement is a mirage. What retirement actually means is the career that you are known for has reached its likely pinnacle, and it’s a transition, not a retirement.

Preet Bharara:

That’s Jared Cohen. He’s the President of Global Affairs and Co-Head of Applied Innovation at Goldman Sachs. Jared has long been at the forefront of technology and policy. He was the CEO of Jigsaw, Google’s tech incubator, and chief advisor to Google CEO Eric Schmidt. He also served as a close advisor to both Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton during their tenures as Secretary of State.

Cohen is also the bestselling author of five books. His most recent book is called Life After Power: Seven Presidents and Their Search for Purpose Beyond the White House. It explores how former presidents, from Thomas Jefferson to George W. Bush, grappled with transition from the height of power to, well, anything else. Cohen joins me to discuss the lives of these seven men and the lessons they offer about the nature of power, the certainty of change, and the quest for purpose. That’s coming up. Stay tuned.


Now, let’s get to your questions. This question comes in an email from Jim, who writes, “Preet, I love how you and Joyce explain legal issues so we can understand them. I’m totally confused on how Trump thinks he can appeal everything all the way to the Supreme Court. I thought you had to have a valid legal issue regarding process in order to appeal. Can you please explain?”

Well, Jim, that’s a very good question. As a general matter, people should understand that the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court of the United States, does not have any obligation, generally speaking, to take on any particular case. You might have an immediate right of appeal from the district court to the appellate court on criminal matters or civil matters, but the Supreme Court itself takes advantage of only a small number of cases to consider.

In fact, the total number of cases the Supreme Court handles in any particular year is just a few dozen, out of the thousands and thousands of petitions for certiorari that are made to the Supreme Court every year. So the Supreme Court has the luxury of being fairly picky. And also, the Supreme Court will not take on any case, unless at least four of the nine justices have voted to hear the case.

Now, as a general matter, the Supreme Court will take up cases where, for example, there’s what lawyers call a circuit split. So you have one appeals court, let’s say in the West, that has decided a particular issue one way, and you have another appeals court, say in the East, that has decided the same matter a different way. So to resolve that split, that difference of opinion between two appellate courts in the country, the Supreme Court will often, but not always, but often, take up the matter.

The Supreme Court will also take up matters between states. The Supreme Court will further take up matters if it deems that the issue is important or one of first impression. But even that is not necessarily enough for the Supreme Court to take the case. Now, you may quibble and quarrel with Donald Trump’s ability to get his matters to the Supreme Court, particularly if you’re of the view that the Supreme Court may favor him, since he’s appointed three of the nine justices.

Recent history has shown, however, and people have pointed this out, and Donald Trump himself has complained about it, they don’t always go his way. There’s no lock or guarantee for Donald Trump or any other party before the Supreme Court, whatever you think about their ideological makeup. Now, in fairness, Donald Trump has had a number of matters that have gone to the Supreme Court, and I don’t think there’s anything unusual or nefarious about that, or improper. He was, after all, the sitting President of the United States, and there are categories of cases that are very important that the Supreme Court feels a need to weigh in on.

Among those, by the way, are cases that did not favor him, relating to financial documents, for example, in Trump v. Mazars and Trump v. Vance. The Supreme Court felt the need to weigh in. Most recently, as of the day that this podcast is dropping, the Supreme Court has decided to take up the issue of whether or not Donald Trump can be banned from the ballot in both Colorado and in Maine based on Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Supreme Court thought, I think appropriately, that it’s a sufficiently significant issue relating to a very, very significant matter and chose to take it up. What remains to be seen, by the way, and may be the most pressing potential case that could come before the Supreme Court in the coming weeks is one that Joyce and I talked about this past week. A panel of the D.C. Circuit Court ruled unanimously that Donald Trump could not prevail on his claim of absolute immunity from having been the President of the United States in connection with the January 6th trial that’s pending in D.C.

Will the Supreme Court take it? Some people say that they will not. They’ll let the D.C. Circuit Court case stand, that opinion against Trump stand. I tend to think, for the reasons I mentioned before, given the nature of it, given the stakes involved, and given the fact that the Supreme Court does think of itself, because it is, the highest court in the land, that on this kind of a question, a first impression involving a former President of the United States, I don’t see how they don’t weigh in.

This question comes in an email from Sydney, who asks, “What do you make of Fulton County DA Fani Willis’s response to the allegations made by Michael Roman? How will this be resolved?” So, of course, sitting here talking about the issue raised by one of the many defendants in the Georgia criminal case against Donald Trump and others, Michael Roman has alleged that DA Fani Willis has been having, and has had for some time, an inappropriate romantic relationship with the person that she appointed to be one of the special counsels in the criminal case, Nathan Wade.

He has alleged that at the time that the appointment was made, Fani Willis and Nathan Wade had a romantic relationship, and that somehow was inappropriate because he was getting this appointment. There’s also the allegation that the monies that he was being paid by the state were used for vacations with Fani Willis. And at this point, Donald Trump has joined the application, which calls for both Wade to be disqualified and Fani Willis to be disqualified, and for the indictment against him, Michael Roman and Donald Trump, to be dismissed.

So Fani Willis, after some days, finally put in a formal response of her own, in which she concedes that there has been a romantic relationship between her and the special counsel, Michael Roman, but that that relationship, she says, began after the appointment. So I don’t know if that’s going to matter to the public and to the critics. It probably won’t. But I will just say a couple of things as a general matter, and I don’t know how it’ll be resolved, although I have a guess about one thing that I’ve mentioned before.

As a general matter, based on my experience at the Southern District of New York and in law practice, there is nothing inappropriate or unethical, necessarily, about two people at a particular office having a relationship. In fact, there were multiple married couples in the Southern District of New York when I presided, and there are still now and have been before.

When there are two people who have such a relationship at an office, the general practice has been to be sure that one person doesn’t have supervisory authority over the other person in their relationship. That makes good sense. That’s good practice. That’s probably ethically wise as well. So just as an initial matter, there’s nothing inherently necessarily wrong with two people at some office, prosecutor’s office or otherwise, having a relationship.

Now, the issue here, as some people might point out, is a matter of best practices. You probably don’t want to have somebody with supervisory authority of someone else with whom they have a romantic relationship. That, however, I don’t think has a bearing on whether or not Michael Roman or Donald Trump have a cause for dismissal or accusal or anything else. It’s not clear to me what the conflict of interest is as a legal matter that Michael Roman can rely on.

As Fani Willis points out in her brief, “Georgia courts have held for decades, in both civil and criminal contexts, personal relationships among lawyers, even on opposing sides of litigation, do not constitute impermissible conflicts of interest.” Now, I haven’t read the cases that are cited therein, but that sounds like an appropriate and correct statement of the law.

There’s another principle that comes into play when there are issues of recusal or disqualification that defendants make with respect to prosecutors, and that is, as a general principle of law, as Fani Willis points out in her brief, quote, “As a preliminary matter, no criminal defendant has a right to select the prosecutor of his or her choosing,” end quote. And the reason for that principle is, in part, you don’t want to have the ability of defendants to disrupt overly the process of prosecution and investigation against them.

So the standard has to be high. There has to be real conflict of interest. It has to be prejudicial to the person who is making the application, and maybe such a case can be made out here. I don’t see it at first blush. That does not mean that it’s wise or appropriate or smart for both lawyers, Nathan Wade and Fani Willis, to continue in this posture with respect to this case. That’s high stakes, and that will receive an intense amount of scrutiny. My prediction is, whether or not the law requires it, that at some point, Nathan Wade will probably step down.

The other notable thing about the Fani Willis response is that her office notes a particular irony with respect to the claim of a conflict of interest, quote, “It is worth noting that there are at least two personal relationships among the collection of defense attorneys representing the defendants that, under the standard urged by Roman’s motion, would almost certainly require disqualification. Amanda Clark Palmer, counsel representing defendant Ray Smith, and Scott Grubman, representing defendant Kenneth Chesebro, are publicly known to be in a personal relationship,” end quote.

So I guess part of the argument that you sometimes see in legal filings: If it’s good for the goose, it’s good for the gander. I’ll be right back with my conversation with Jared Cohen.


What can we learn about big life transitions from former presidents? Jared Cohen, the author of the new book, Life After Power, is about to tell us. Jared Cohen, welcome back to the show.

Jared Cohen:

Thank you, Preet.

Preet Bharara:

Congratulations on the book. You’ve written another book, Life After Power: Seven Presidents and Their Search for Purpose Beyond the White House. So it’s a great book. It’s very educational, instructive. Lots of history here, lots of analysis here. But I guess the first thing we should maybe note, and you talk about this in the book, obviously, and feel blessed about, is that we actually have former presidents. The fact that we have leaders of our country who go into the sunset and are not executed and don’t stay until they die, at least not usually, is a thing we should celebrate. No?

Jared Cohen:

Absolutely. And by the way, it’s worth reflecting on how far we’ve come. I mean, remember, the Founding Fathers didn’t have a lot of examples to point to for the peaceful transfer of power. And so, they had a lot of things to worry about. One of the things they worried about is, “What are we supposed to do with our ex-presidents?” Yeah. They’re worried enough that Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 72 asked the question, “Does it promote the stability and well-being of the country to basically have half a dozen men, who’d risen to the level of president, wandering around the rest of us like discontented ghosts?”

The good news is, we do have a sense of what to expect from ex-presidents, the good, the bad, and the ugly. But I think more than 200 years later, we have an answer to Hamilton’s question, which is ex-presidents can either be tremendous partners to their successors, symbols of the peaceful transfer of power by virtue of the fact that they fade away, or, as we’re seeing in 2024, they can be the most formidable adversaries to their successors.

Preet Bharara:

Before we started recording, I asked you what the experience was of writing the book. So before we get to the substance of it, I want to ask you what you meant when you said it was a very introspective experience for you. How’s that?

Jared Cohen:

Writing a book is always an interesting journey. First of all, it takes a long time. So where you start is not always where you end, and what you think you’re writing is not always what you end up with. And I started writing this book in my 30s, and I thought I was writing a book that would shed light on retirement and the twilight years of one’s life.

And as I dug into the case studies of these seven presidents, who I think found greater sense of purpose after they left the White House, I realized I’d actually written a book that tackled a much more elusive and persistent, lifelong question of, “What do you do next?” And all of us are going to ask the question, “What’s next?” so many different times in our lives at a different scale and with different ferocity. It’ll be on the personal front. It’ll be on the professional front.

And as I was digging into each of these presidents, I kept drawing on lessons for my own life. And I found the entire experience also quite humbling, because of the 45 men who’ve served as president 46 times, because Cleveland did it twice, most of them aren’t remembered, and even fewer of them figured out what to do afterward. So the rest of us should actually kind of rest assured that if they can’t figure it out, there’s no blueprint for it.

And I think that’s the thing that was really striking for me, is the consistent thread across all of these presidents is, the ones who were successful post-White House, they developed a very strong sense of what they were principled about, and their success after the White House resulted from them doubling down on those core principles and staying true to them. It’s the ones that meander away from principles that I think get lost in the post-presidency.

Preet Bharara:

Look, we’re all thinking about and wondering about second acts. So my question is based on my own experience. One person who’s not on your list is Teddy Roosevelt. Had Teddy Roosevelt embarked on a career in podcasting, might he have made your list?

Jared Cohen:

Look, Theodore Roosevelt is, full disclosure, my favorite president. Right? I have a life-size wax sculpture of Theodore Roosevelt in my apartment.

Preet Bharara:

I have seen that wax sculpture.

Jared Cohen:

Now, my wife doesn’t-

Preet Bharara:

It’s a little creepy.

Jared Cohen:

It is creepy. My wife doesn’t like it, and I allow him to stay by virtue of making the argument that he’s basically a scarecrow for would-be burglars who might come in. The problem is, he scares the parents of my daughter’s friends. But that’s neither here nor there. I mean, look, what’s interesting about Theodore Roosevelt, rarely has a man exuded so much ambition who’s risen to the White House, but he never really found his way in the post-presidency.

I mean, interestingly, he’s one of only a handful of presidents that attempted a comeback and got the nomination for a party, albeit a third party, the Bull Moose, to challenge one of his successors in 1912. And he splits the Republican vote, and Woodrow Wilson ends up serving two terms. He fails to kind of be relevant during World War I and has this sort of silly idea to raise the type of cavalry that he raised as a Rough Rider in Cuba, totally antiquated for a war of tanks and artillery. And he’s so depressed that he goes to the Amazon to navigate the River of Doubt and nearly kills himself.

Had he lived longer, I think Theodore Roosevelt would be included in this book. The conventional wisdom going into the 1920 election and a couple years before is that Theodore Roosevelt was a shoo-in to be the Republican nominee. He ends up dying in 1919, and then Warren Harding basically ends up as the Republican nominee and then the president. And he’s kind of an odd entity, but there weren’t a lot of good choices in 1920. And the feeling among the party bosses is he was handsome and he looked like a president, “So let’s just go with him.”

Preet Bharara:

I mean, he’s the guy who continued delivering a speech after being shot in the chest.

Jared Cohen:

That is also true. Not Harding, but Theodore Roosevelt.

Preet Bharara:

Theodore Roosevelt. Yeah. So I think we can infer an answer to this question from some of the things you just said, but tell us more explicitly what the criteria were for picking these seven ex-presidents. Was it, you said, doing things consistent with principle? Was it anything else?

Jared Cohen:

So what I was looking for were different models for how to answer the question of, “What’s next?” And again, I looked at presidents because it’s the most dramatic retirement in the world. And if you fail to win reelection, it’s the most dramatic firing in the entire world at a scale unimaginable anywhere else. And so, I got very interested in this idea of, through a handful of case studies, can I illuminate different models for how to answer the question or approach the question of, “What’s next?”

And I was surprised. When I looked at the post-presidency, I settled on the seven, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Grover Cleveland, William Howard Taft, Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter, and George W. Bush, in part because there weren’t really any others that I thought were worthy of the study. It’s not a ranking of ex-presidents, but it’s a kind of canvas of great case studies for the rest of us to draw on.

And each chapter will speak to a reader in different ways, and each chapter illuminates a different path for transition and how to figure out when you think you’ve accomplished the greatest thing that you’re going to accomplish in your life. How do you go on to do something meaningful? And again, each of them did it in very different ways.

Preet Bharara:

One more time, I’m going to put a plug in for podcasting. Jared, what are the factors that you found affected the likelihood of success post-presidency? Was it age of a departing president? Was it their popularity level when they left? Was it the relative meanness or niceness of their successor? What kinds of things affected their results?

Jared Cohen:

So, look, all of those factors run the gamut, because each of those things were present for some and not present for others. I think there’s a couple things. One, patience in the first year or two following the transition. Those that rushed into something else ended up struggling. And I would say the other kind of consistent thread is, each of the presidents that I write about, they’re very principled about something.

So I’ll give you an example. John Quincy Adams, that chapter is all about how to have a second act, and his presidency was basically an intermission between two of the greatest acts in American history. The first one was architected for him by his famous parents who wanted him to become president, and then his presidency was a complete disaster because of a deal he struck with Henry Clay when the 1824 election went to the House of Representatives. And so, it was kind of called the corrupt bargain, and his presidency was a political stillborn.

And so, when he was defeated in 1828, he goes back to Quincy, Massachusetts and he tries his hand at tree farming. All of his trees die. He tries to write a memoir about his father, or a biography on his father. He can’t get through it. He’s basically depressed and miserable and making everybody around him miserable. All he knows how to do is serve in the public sector, because that was what he was born to do.

And he served in every other position. He’s been president. He’s been Secretary of State. He served in the Senate. He’s been an ambassador to every country the U.S. had diplomatic relations with. And some of his friends convinced him to get elected to the House of Representatives. And to put a punchline on this, John Quincy Adams began his career appointed by George Washington to serve in his administration. He dies in 1848, elected to his ninth term in the House of Representatives as an ex-president, where he serves alongside a freshman congressman named Abraham Lincoln.

The reason that’s significant is, when John Quincy Adams goes to the House of Representatives, he doesn’t know what cause he’s searching for. He just knows he needs to be in public service. And he creates a set of circumstances where, in a much lower station, he discovers a much higher cause, and it starts with fighting for the right to petition, and then it evolves into the fight against censoring discussions over slavery in the House of Representatives.

And eventually, he mainstreams what, at the time, was a radical and fringe movement, which was the abolitionist movement. And by the time he and Abraham Lincoln sit in the same chamber, John Quincy Adams has elevated this movement in a way that it’s accelerated its progress 10 years, just in time for Lincoln to take the mantle.

Preet Bharara:

George Washington, in his example, we learned in school and we appreciate today, maybe more today than in any recent time, his example of stepping down after two terms and not becoming a king. And that’s obviously a theme of the book. How come he himself did not make the list of seven?

Jared Cohen:

George Washington, his post-presidency was not a happy time for him. And his decision to stick to two terms and return to civilian life, I view as a presidential decision. He never discovered a sense of purpose afterwards. First of all, he didn’t live that much longer, but he spent most of his twilight years in terrible debt, chasing around people who owed him money.

George Washington founded a whiskey business, not because he wanted to be an entrepreneur or was particularly fond of whiskey. He was so desperate for money and basically living hand to mouth. He was also the most famous American. And so, all of these voyeurs and tourists would just show up at Mount Vernon, which was in the middle of nowhere, and he would be forced to entertain them and put them up, which would drain his finances even further.

And he finished his life very worried about the future of the republic, and he finished his life completely broke. And so, he never discovers that sense of purpose. He dies knowing that he left an important legacy. He dies knowing that he set a precedent for the peaceful transfer of power, but he never goes on to do something that eclipses those experiences or rivals those experiences, and you compare that with Thomas Jefferson.

Thomas Jefferson had three things etched on his tombstone. None of them were the fact that he was President of the United States. He viewed himself as a co-founder of the republic, and had a very strong conviction that they built the republic with certain well-known flaws. And if you didn’t train the next generation through a modern arts and sciences university to improve upon what they had left behind, the republic would not survive.

And much like an entrepreneur, the chapter is kind of called the Serial Founder. Much like a serial founder, when you build something, there’s founder’s obligations that come with it. And so, he tried to retire three times, and then he has to serve as Secretary of State, and then he has to be vice president, and then he has to be president twice, and he loses valuable years. And it’s only at 82 years old that he basically finishes the third volume of his life trilogy, which was founding the University of Virginia.

And he remains the only ex-president who, in his post-presidency, who’s built an institution that’s lasted more than 200 years. And there’s a very funny, not funny, but there’s a very kind of ironic story about this, which is, on October 4th, 1825, shortly after they opened the doors of UVA, which he personally architects, the university experiences a mob riot from the inaugural class of students who were chanting, “Down with European professors.” They’re throwing bags of urine at professors, beating them with their canes.

And you’ll appreciate this as a prosecutor, Preet. Jefferson calls an all-school assembly for the students to meet before the disciplinary committee the next day, because in a weird show of Southern honor, they won’t give each other up. And the disciplinary committee for UVA at the time was Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe, the most intimidating disciplinary committee, past, present, and future.

And Jefferson stands up, and at 82 years old, frail and wrinkled, starts hysterically crying and bawling. And Madison puts his hand on Jefferson’s shoulder and kind of gestures him to sit down and stands up to address the students. And before he gets a single word out, the very sight of a man who just exuded principle and admiration from those students breaking down in tears was enough for the guilty to confess.

Preet Bharara:

John Quincy Adams and George W. Bush. Correct me if I’m wrong, but they are the only two, I guess we would call them nepo babies to become president. In other words, offspring of prior presidents. Am I right about that?

Jared Cohen:

That’s correct.

Preet Bharara:

Both of them made your list, two of the seven. Anything inherent in the fact that they had predecessors in their families be president first?

Jared Cohen:

So what I would say is, what John Quincy Adams, George W. Bush, and also Grover Cleveland had in common is they had intimate familiarity with the post-presidency, John Quincy Adams and George W. Bush because of the experience with their fathers. And by the way, John Adams and George H.W. Bush emotionally had a difficult time on the heels of being defeated for reelection.

Grover Cleveland is the only president to know what it’s like to be a former president from his own empirical experience. So I sort of lump him in this as well. So I think it’s impossible to say that that’s divorced from some of their success. They just had more of a frame of reference and more perspective up close and personal, and let’s call it rawer information and perspective about what they were about to embark on. But their experiences are very, very different. Right?

When I looked at the active living presidents, there was only one whose popularity had more than doubled, and it was George W. Bush. And he had accomplished that by investing significantly less in his legacy and his image than any of his active contemporaries, and I thought that was worthy of a study and I wanted to understand why. And look, some of it is, George W. Bush is dogmatically disciplined and principled about the George Washington precedent and this idea of one president at a time. And people who don’t like his policies certainly won’t appreciate this, but he’s not introspective, and he’s completely detached and separated and moved on from politics.

He doesn’t think about it. He doesn’t mention his successors by name. And even some of the other active presidents, they stay out of the fray, but they can’t resist the urge to insert themselves from time to time. And I think this reverence for the Washington principle is something that Americans appreciate, but it’s also aged very well in an era of Donald Trump. And so, you can’t ignore the juxtaposition. Right? George W. Bush has sort of aged well on the post-presidential balance sheet.

And then his ambition didn’t get tempered when he left office, but he discovered a post-presidential voice through painting that allowed him to advance certain causes, like veterans, without undermining his successors. And I think that over time… I spent two days interviewing him up in Kennebunkport in 2020, and we had a really interesting conversation about legacy. And this for me was very prescriptive, whether you’re 75 years old or 42 years old, like I am, which is, he describes it as a selfish word, a dirty word.

And he just can’t fathom why somebody would waste time in the present investing in something that they’re not going to be around to see and they’re not going to be around to shape. Right? He had sort of joked that he had just read three books about George Washington the previous year. By the time they get around to the other George, he’s going to be long gone. And it’s not that he doesn’t care about legacy, it’s not that he doesn’t think about it. He’s quarrelsome with the idea that anybody should actively waste their time and experience the opportunity cost of the present, trying to shape what happens long after they’re gone.

Preet Bharara:

He has a library, does he not?

Jared Cohen:

He has a center. And look, the modern presidency, which I think is really architected by Jimmy Carter, right? Jimmy Carter, by virtue of being defeated for reelection in 1980, makes a very difficult decision, but a rather immediate decision after leaving office, which is, he’s not going to seek a return to the presidency.

I think, retrospectively, when you look back upon that, he couldn’t create a never-ending… He loved being president. It killed him that he couldn’t still be president, but he also came to appreciate that the presidency comes to an end. But he could be a former president forever. And he basically built a version of a never-ending presidency leaning into his status as a former and building infrastructure around it.

And that paves the way for… There’s now an expectation that every single president doesn’t just have a library, which is, by the way, congressionally mandated since Eisenhower, but that every president will basically write a book or a memoir, give some paid speeches. Carter was the last one to kind of avoid doing that, and then go on to build a center to serve as a steward of their values.

Preet Bharara:

Did you have a longer list beyond the seven? And then as you did research and contemplated and deliberated, did you winnow it down to seven, or did you come up with these seven pretty early on?

Jared Cohen:

Preet, I would’ve included eight. I would’ve included nine. I don’t think there was an eighth and a ninth that makes the cut. I mean, you could argue Ulysses Grant, because he wrote the first great presidential memoir, and it’s kind of the gold standard. I’m not sure that that filled him with a sense of purpose. He was dying of cancer when he did it, and it was as much about correcting the record as anything else.

So I had the bandwidth to add another president. The book could have been a little bit longer with another president. I think what’s interesting is, when I looked at the presidents who survived the presidency, by the way, because eight died and a couple died shortly thereafter, and a few are too recent, I defaulted to these seven because these seven represent, in my opinion, the only case studies of, after the most dramatic transition in the world, finding another path to purpose and meaning in life.

Preet Bharara:

Can we talk about one person who’s not on the list? And he’s relatively recent, but he’s not as recent as George W. Bush, and that’s Bill Clinton, who certainly had great ambitions with the Clinton Global Initiative and everything else. How would you describe his post-presidency and his legacy, and is it complicated by various things that went on during his presidency that have been reevaluated through the lens of how we think about things now?

Jared Cohen:

Look, the thing that is out of a president’s control. Presidents like to think that they can control their legacy. And by the way, this isn’t just true for… This is true for anybody. Anybody that has a public platform, and even people that don’t, there’s this idea that when you’re done, you can kind of control your legacy, and you can program around your legacy, and you can shape your legacy. But you can’t control how context changes, how norms evolve.

And I think the tragedy of Bill Clinton’s post-presidency is, other than Jimmy Carter, I don’t know that there’s a modern post-president who has tried to do more to shape their legacy than Bill Clinton. And for a moment, it looked like he was making a lot of progress, but the rug moved from underneath him as the norms changed, and you had the Me Too movement and the attempted return of the Clintons to the White House.

And I think that his legacy in his lifetime is experiencing, for different reasons, a version of what Woodrow Wilson and many others have experienced posthumously, which is, the norms change. You can’t influence that. You can’t shape that. You’ve sort of done what you’ve done. You can program all you want, but history will write about you in the way that it wants to write about you. I just think what’s tragic for Bill Clinton is it’s happening in his lifetime.

The counterexample of this is Herbert Hoover. Herbert Hoover lived to be 90 years old, and he’s defined by a four-year presidency of the Great Depression. Before he was president, he was one of the most revered Americans out there. He was known as the Great Humanitarian for feeding the world after World War I. He led relief after the Great Mississippi Floods in 1927. He was an orphan who had risen to be a self-made millionaire, and he had bipartisan appeal and was recruited and courted by both parties, and he basically waltzes into the White House in 1928 in one of the most lopsided victories. And he loses all of that because of the Great Depression.

Herbert Hoover wasn’t focused on reviving his legacy. Yes, he had the same grappling with vanity and the tarnishing of his name, but for Herbert Hoover, it was a story of recovering that, which he had lost. And he does eventually become the Great Humanitarian again, because Truman resurrects him to feed the world after World War II. Both Truman and Eisenhower resurrect him to reorganize the executive branch of government. He regains his status as a great executive.

And in his last act as a sort of servant of the country, he achieves his bipartisan status again when Joe Kennedy, after the 1960 election, calls on Herbert Hoover to reconcile Richard Nixon and his son, John F. Kennedy, to show a united, bipartisan front to the world, because we’re in the midst of the Cold War. And even Herbert Hoover’s name gets tarnished again posthumously, even though his name starts to mean something again in his lifetime. But I think he died happy, and I think he died fulfilled and complete knowing that what he had lost because of the Great Depression, he had managed to get back.

Preet Bharara:

Well, Hoover also had the challenge of having his successor basically run against him four consecutive times, and make him the punching bag for a long time. It’s hard to overcome that. No?

Jared Cohen:

The Herbert Hoover case study is a tremendous story in smear marketing campaign. Right? I mean, the FDR folks really did a number on him. And FDR was elected four times, and it just felt like the FDR presidency would never end. I mean, even as recently as, I think, two weeks ago, you have Donald Trump saying, “I don’t want to be Herbert Hoover,” and Biden referencing Herbert Hoover. It’s become part of the dictionary. Right? It’s become part of the political lexicon.

And once that happens, it’s very difficult to stop it. And look, one of the things that I sort of joke about in this book is, I kind of want to make Herbert Hoover great again, because I don’t think that a man who accomplished so much before the presidency and after the presidency should only be remembered by four years of their life.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah. I mean, look, the same principle is true with respect to Jimmy Carter. I’ll be right back with Jared Cohen after this. It seems that this principle that you keep referring to about the George Washington precedent, not only stepping down after two terms, but being apolitical, something that George W. Bush subscribed to. It was the opposite for someone like Bill Clinton.

And I wonder, and I say this without meaning any disparagement to Hillary Clinton, who many people voted for and I voted for in 2016, had there been no Hillary Clinton attempt at the presidency, and I think you alluded to this, would Bill Clinton’s post-presidency have been more like George W. Bush’s or more like some of these other folks, because he would’ve been above the fray of politics?

Jared Cohen:

I think there’s a valid argument to that. While Bill Clinton wasn’t trying to come back to the presidency because he was termed out, he was kind of trying to come back to the presidency by proxy. And I don’t think it’s a far-fetched analysis to say that Bill Clinton might have been even more thrilled to be back in the White House as First Gentleman than Hillary Clinton would have been to come to the White House as president, although I think they both wanted it.

One of the things I say in the book is that former presidents make terrible presidential candidates historically. Right? A number have tried to make a comeback. Only Grover Cleveland has accomplished it. I think Bill Clinton, by virtue of being a pair with Hillary Clinton, did a version of trying to make a comeback and adds to that narrative that it didn’t go well. And by the way, it’s worth noting, just as we kind of go into the 2024 election, I started writing this book in 2019, and you couldn’t have predicted 2020 back then, let alone 2024.

And I think what’s so interesting is we find ourselves now in the first and only time since 1892, where you have a rematch between two presidents who are likely going to be the nominees of the two major parties. Last time was Grover Cleveland versus Benjamin Harrison. The difference here is Grover Cleveland never lost the popular vote. He threw away the presidency in 1888 because he stood on principle with the tariff, and he famously said, “What’s the point of being president if you don’t stand for something?” And he was never happier than when he threw away the presidency.

But you fast-forward to today, and in addition to this kind of anomalous second rematch between two presidents, you also have the oldest two candidates in U.S. history, eclipsed only by themselves four years ago when they ran against each other. And so, why are we in this situation? It feels like we’ve gone massively off script from our political evolution.

And my answer to that question is, at least in part, you have two presidents who don’t want to give up power. And the honest truth is, this isn’t just an election for who’s going to be the next president, Joe Biden or Donald Trump. This is a very consequential election for who’s going to be the next ex-president, Joe Biden or Donald Trump, because it’s not going to be a very long post-presidency. And so, the stakes are even higher for both of them.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah. Do you think the Donald Trump folks are carefully studying the example and precedent of Grover Cleveland?

Jared Cohen:

It’s interesting. I think Cleveland’s obviously getting a lot of attention these days. By the way, Grover Cleveland will not be serviced well, again, to draw on the Bill Clinton example. Grover Cleveland’s legacy will not be served well by being resurrected in this context. It has nothing to do with Donald Trump. It has everything to do with the fact that his best friend, Oscar Folsom, dies in a very 19th-century horse-and-buggy accident and leaves behind a young girl named Frances Folsom. And Cleveland, when she was very little, becomes her legal guardian.

And he starts courting her when she’s a teenager, further courts her when she’s an undergraduate and he’s President of the United States, and he ends up marrying her, and she becomes the youngest First Lady in history at 21 years old. And I just feel like that’s not going to age well when people start kind of digging into Cleveland’s life. But that’s neither here nor there. Look, we only have one case study of a rematch between two presidents as the nominees of the major parties. All the other examples are on third-party tickets or failed attempts to get the nomination.

So you do kind of have to talk about the two together. They’re not that similar. They don’t have a lot in common. Cleveland’s motivations for coming back were not because he wanted to be president again, and not because he was facing prosecution. He didn’t have indictments in multiple jurisdictions, and Cleveland was viewed across the country as an extremely popular, honest, and dignified man.

He wanted to come back, because when he looked at his own Democratic Party, you either had proponents of free silver who he thought were runaway populists that were going to ruin the country, or you had spoilsmen in his own party who he thought were going to corrupt the system. And he believed he was the only person in the Democratic Party who could keep the economy from ruin, because he thought Benjamin Harrison, his successor, was driving the country, economically speaking, into the ground.

And his comeback is a cautionary tale because he leaves after a second term having inherited a mess, and then he leaves incredibly unpopular, incredibly unhappy. And his twilight years are a reminder that sometimes when you make a comeback, it’s not all like Michael Jordan and Steve Jobs. It’s oftentimes a pretty less-than-satisfying experience. Look at Donald Rumsfeld.

Preet Bharara:

As you write in the book, comebacks are easy to contemplate, but hard to execute. Why are they particularly hard to execute for someone who has actually made it to the top? You might think comebacks should be easier for such a person, because they actually accomplished what is the most difficult thing to accomplish politically in the country. Why can’t they do it a second time more easily than other people could do it the first time?

Jared Cohen:

So I think this is certainly acute for presidents, but I think it’s also true for business leaders or leaders of any organizations, which is, when you come back to a job you once had in four years or in between, you remember it as it was, not as it evolved. And the context changes, the culture changes. And you come in to sort of lead the organization you once knew, not the organization that it’s become. And there’s either advertent or inadvertent overconfidence or arrogance. And then you also inherit whatever your successor, by the way, and predecessor left for you.

So Grover Cleveland’s problem was, the day that he takes the oath of office, he inherits the worst economic crisis in the country’s history. He inherits a U.S.-backed revolution that overthrew the Queen of Hawaii and set the country on a path to an annexation of the islands that he didn’t want. And he feels a lump in the top of his mouth and, soon thereafter, learns that he has cancer and it might be terminal, and he hasn’t even started yet. And so, before he can actually get after the agenda that was the principled reason he came back, he’s stuck looking backwards, dealing with all these other crises.

Preet Bharara:

Can we talk about Jimmy Carter some more? How much of his post-presidency that we praise is due to his longevity?

Jared Cohen:

So longevity is absolutely… For the seven presidents that I write about, longevity is a critical feature. It takes a long time, as evidenced by the seven presidents that I write about, to identify that sense of purpose, to get after that sense of purpose, to figure out how to do it after you’ve already been President of the United States. Right? Jefferson lived to be 82 years old in 1825. That’s extraordinary for that time period. John Quincy Adams lived to be 90. Herbert Hoover lived to be 90. Jimmy Carter is the oldest living president in history, and the list goes on.

That time is really important, because the post-presidency is not easy, and the transition is dramatic, and there’s a process and an emotional journey that one has to go on, and you need time in order to be able to do that. And so, if you look at Carter, Carter has lived so long that the vast majority of Americans who are alive today only know him as a former president. Right? And so, their evaluation of Carter is not the Iran hostage crisis. It’s not long gas lines.

Preet Bharara:

They don’t remember the misery index.

Jared Cohen:

There’s been a ton of economic depression since Carter. And by the way, there’s been a bunch of hostage crises since Carter. And young Americans, they don’t know of a Carter presidency, but those young Americans aren’t so young anymore. Middle-aged Americans don’t know of a Carter presidency. And I think Carter represents how a post-president or an ex-president can be a partner or foe of their successors.

And look, he’s done some extraordinary things in the post-presidency. He basically eradicated Guinea worm from Africa. He mainstreamed and scaled the idea of election monitoring and human rights as an American value, and built real programmatic efforts around it that I think will last long beyond him. But he also did some things that were really questionable. Right?

When George H.W. Bush is getting ready to launch Operation Desert Storm and seeking unanimous resolution from the UN Security Council to get Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, Jimmy Carter secretly writes letters to the presidents and prime ministers of every single one of the permanent five members of the Security Council, except for Margaret Thatcher, who he didn’t trust, basically urging them to oppose George H.W. Bush.

And when Bill Clinton sends Jimmy Carter to North Korea in 1994 to deliver a message to the North Korean leader, as the country is facing a major nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula, Clinton understands exactly who Carter is and makes it very clear, “You’re a messenger. You’re not to make any policy.” And what happens? He turns on CNN, and Jimmy Carter is announcing a whole nuclear treaty and deal that he has negotiated independently as a sort of unsanctioned negotiator for the U.S. government.

And so, he sort of does these things and is unapologetic about it. And so, Carter, to me, represents the full range of what we can expect from an ex-president. And the fact that he’s been an ex-president alive for more than 42 years just gives us a lot of training data for what that can look like.

Preet Bharara:

This is a weird hypothetical question perhaps, but some of these ex-presidents who achieved success and distinction in their post-presidency, if they could go back in time and be the president again, are there lessons you think they would have learned from their successful post-presidency that would have been useful in their actual terms in office?

Jared Cohen:

I think it depends which president you’re talking about. I think what’s interesting about each of the seven presidents that I write about, even Carter who missed… He missed the agenda that he was pushing as president. And each of them goes… Not all of them, but a lot of them go through a process of dealing with the sort of realities that they don’t have the power they once had.

But as each of them evolves in their post-presidencies, they think more about agendas and missions. Again, it’s this point about principles than they do about the office of the presidency. What I would say is, each of them, I believe, achieves a greater understanding and clarity around what their principles are that they stand for and that define them. And I think if any of them had a time machine, they would want that benefit of hindsight, and they would want to bring that strong sense of principle to the White House.

And so, like John Quincy Adams, I think he mentioned slavery only a couple times while he’s president. Why? Because in between the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the 1830s is a period where slavery just wasn’t a hotly debated issue. There were lots of issues, the tariff and a number of other things that were really contentious during that time. But slavery, it was just kind of tabled. And I think John Quincy Adams, with the benefit of hindsight, would have gone back and been president again and championed the abolitionist cause a decade before he championed it in Congress.

Preet Bharara:

You’ve made the analogy to CEOs a couple of times in this discussion. The other analogy that comes to my mind when we talk about presidents and leaving the pinnacle of power are elite athletes who, unlike CEOs, a CEO can return to power. You can make a comeback. An elite athlete, after a certain age, you can’t go back and win Wimbledon. You can’t go back and be in the Super Bowl, because you’re literally aged out.

And if you’ve gone from being the most successful, famous athlete in your sport in the world, and then you retire, did you find in your research and talking to people there was any parallel between that letdown and the letdown of people who have been commander in chief leaving office?

Jared Cohen:

I did, and I thought a lot about this, because my adolescent years were watching Michael Jordan’s comeback and Magic Johnson’s less successful comeback. And I think there’s a lot of analogies, right? So an athlete retires and comes back a few years later, and they’re physically less capable. The team dynamics have changed. Their role on the team changes. The context of the sport that they’re coming back to has changed.

And Michael Jordan is more the exception than the norm. But even look at Tiger Woods. I mean, yes, Tiger Woods won the Masters again, but his comeback is a much more complicated one, and the sport has changed. His role within the sport has changed. His abilities have changed. And so, I think there’s a lot of analogies. And so, the question is, “What to do with former great athletes?” Right? The same way we ask the question, “What to do with ex-presidents?” And you have similar models there. Right?

You have former superstar athletes that they basically continue to use the sport as a platform, but they change their role within that sport. Right? They become a commentator or they become a coach, or they start a business around it. You get former athletes that say, “You know what? I gave up the first half of my life. I have plenty of money, and I’m just going to kind of evaporate. I don’t want the fame. I don’t want the endorsements. I don’t need to work. I just want to enjoy the rest of my life.”

You get some that they have a hard time losing the fame and losing stadiums of people watching them, and their whole post-athletic career is about trying different experiments to get that back and trying different kind of odd jobs and careers to get it back, but the endorphin rush is never the same. And so, look, I think the side-by-side study of presidents and athletes is very similar, because you get launched into this stratosphere where you have this platform that only a handful of people can relate to and understand, and then you very, very quickly return to civilian life, and you have to deal with normal people problems.

Preet Bharara:

Based on all of this, do you have any sort of specific advice to people as they leave power or as they leave positions of authority or high stations in life based on the experience of these presidents and others on how to adjust?

Jared Cohen:

Yeah. Look, there’s a few prescriptions. One, understand that these days, retirement is a mirage. What retirement actually means is the career that you are known for has reached its likely pinnacle, and it’s a transition, not a retirement. So that’s the first point. It’s just having clarity on that. The second is, you have to find a way to separate yourself from the job that you had before. It doesn’t mean you can’t have an opinion about it. But undermining your successor, trying to settle old scores, what it does is it prevents you from moving on.

And the presidents that got bogged down in that, they really struggled until they made a real separation. Third, it’s a change of pace. And what I always tell people, I’ve talked to a lot of presidents around the world as they’ve been making their transitions, and know I’m writing this book. I wrote this book. And they asked advice, and I always tell them, I said, “Look, give yourself a year to reflect. Slow down, organize your life. Get used to saying no. Get used to having idle time. Do the things that you didn’t have time to do before. Get in shape. Reflect on what you care about. Think through all the things that you wanted to do but the constraints of your office didn’t allow you to do, and just use it as a year of introspection and patience.”

And more often than not, ex-presidents make very impatient people. And so, that’s usually the first fatal flaw that a lot of them experience. And then I made the point already about, “Once you sort of identify the kind of core principle that defines you, have everything you do be a tributary of that, because that’s what’s going to give you fulfillment.” And then the last, and this I really appreciate from George W. Bush, with painting. I mean, his painting is not a hobby. He sort of describes it as an endless learning experience that’s become a fundamental part of his last chapter of life.

And as you get older and your knees give out, as your friends start passing away, as you lose your relevance, having something that’s not tied to your physical vitality and, frankly, even your mental vitality that allows you to, every single day, wake up and busy yourself and challenge yourself and continue learning is a very, very important part of longevity. I mean, Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter probably wrote more books than any other presidents in their lifetimes, and I think it’s not a coincidence that they’ve wrote voraciously and prolifically, and they both have lived very long lives.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah. No, it’s interesting hearing you talk, and none of this was deliberate. And I obviously was never the President of the United States, but I had a position of some power. And because of the nature of my departure, rather than go back into practice and be back in the field, in the arena right away, I did have a forced period of about 18 months writing my book, which was purely a reflection on what I had done. So I benefited accidentally from some of the prescriptions that you’re talking about now.

Jared Cohen:

Yeah. And Preet, look, you and I spent a lot of time together when you were… That was kind of the time where you and I got to know each other and became friends. And I remember you going through the process, and it coincided with when you were also thinking about and starting your podcast. And you actually gave yourself time and found these sort of platforms to reflect and be introspective, and I think that has been a very important set of attributes associated with where I’ve seen you find purpose.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah. And you can find that there are different things you can do that are not exactly the same as before. And if you don’t take time and pause and reflect and be open-minded about options, you just dive into some alternate version of the exact same thing you were doing before. And that’s good for some people, but not always.

Jared Cohen:

Yeah. It’s interesting. We all love quoting Theodore Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena speech. I think part of Theodore Roosevelt’s folly is, he didn’t know how to not be in the arena. And the irony is sometimes allowing yourself to exist and find purpose outside of the arena is what gets you back into it.

Preet Bharara:

Although some people are built that way. And I know people who are in politics, and I’ve worked for a senator whose joy and happiness comes from being in the arena. There are people, and I know this also in the business sector, and I wonder what you think about people like this. If you’re built this way as opposed to being forced to be this way because you think it’s important to success and achievement, but who never have downtime, get frustrated on day two of the vacation, want to open the briefcase, want to open the laptop. I mean, you know people like this. Is it okay if you’re like that, if that’s your nature, as opposed to thinking you must be that way to achieve success?

Jared Cohen:

Look, I think it’s not about, is it okay or is it not okay? Right? It’s a decision that you want to live your life. What my answer to it would be, if I look at these seven presidents, each of them in the post-presidency discovered something about themselves that they didn’t think was who they were. Right? So each of them, it’s not that they reinvented themselves. They mined their brains and their bodies and found metaphorical gems that guided them in their last chapter of life, and they just didn’t know it was there.

John Quincy Adams, he didn’t see himself as the leader of the abolitionist movement. It’s something he actually would have actively resisted early in his life. I mean, George W. Bush never saw himself as a painter. I mean, Laura Bush, I interviewed her as well, and she said he never showed an interest in art in his entire life. One of his first painting teachers, they literally had a painting of his in their home, and he didn’t even know it was his teacher’s painting.

Preet Bharara:

Obviously, most of this discussion, if not all of this discussion, has been about presidents who leave power, life after power. But it occurs to me, as I sit here, there are other examples of that too. And I wonder if your experience in writing this book gives you any insight into, for example, somebody who has left the mayoralty in the City of New York, Rudy Giuliani, his post-mayor existence. Is there anything in that experience and observing that that resonates with what you learned from writing the book? Because that’s a person who, I think, by all accounts, did not leave power happily.

Jared Cohen:

Look, I think when you have had a position of power, particularly a President of the United States or you’ve been a high-profile mayor like Rudy Giuliani, like it or not, unlike authoritarian systems where they end up in prison or some other ill fate, the idea of former presidents or former leaders is a feature of our democratic system. And you retain status and power by virtue of just kind of normative platform, having held these positions. Right?

And the check and balance on it is not the ballot box. It’s the population and, frankly, the courts in, really, Rudy Giuliani’s case. And the story of our ex-presidents, I write about seven that have been remarkable. I’m dismissive of a lot of them. What we haven’t talked about is some of the disasters. I mean, John Tyler, who is our 10th president, when Civil War breaks out, literally defects from the Union and joins the Confederacy and is elected to the Confederate House of Representatives.

Imagine that. A President of the United States literally becoming an actual traitor to the Union, so much so that when he dies in 1862, he becomes the only former president to be denied a state funeral. And so, the Confederacy gives him one in Richmond, or you take Franklin Pierce. So I’m sure your listeners think about constantly.

Preet Bharara:

At least I do.

Jared Cohen:

Democrat from New Hampshire, huge drinking problem, failed presidency, decides, as an ex-president, he’s going to try to rally the ex-presidents to see if they can thwart the Civil War. He gets stifled and frustrated, and ends up becoming a correspondent of Jefferson Davis. And while he stops just shy of becoming a traitor, he behaves disloyally towards the Union. And look at what’s happening today. Your listeners can draw your own conclusions, but we’re still in 2024 grappling with the question of what to do with ex-presidents, what to do with ex-mayors, what to do with ex-CEOs.

We have a lot of people in this country who wander around us like discontented ghosts, to use Hamilton’s note. And one of the things that’s sort of interesting about a democratic system is, they’ve retained some of that power and influence by virtue of the station that they had. There’s nothing sort of more dangerous than a once powerful person who doesn’t know what to do with the influence that they have.

Preet Bharara:

And part of the difference, I guess, as I was thinking about it just now, between a former mayor and a former president, there’s no position that can equal or surpass former president, not even Supreme Court justice, I don’t think, whereas if you’ve had great power as a mayor, like Giuliani did, there’s still that next step. There’s still that possibility of having something that’s even higher up on the totem pole, higher up in terms of authority and position and prestige. And so, those dreams die very hard.

Jared Cohen:

But it’s interesting. It depends on who you are. If you look, we haven’t talked about William Howard Taft. But William Howard Taft, there was something from his boyhood that he was very principled of, which is, he reflects a period of time where presidents revered the courts. I mean, this guy had this infatuation-

Preet Bharara:

That time has passed.

Jared Cohen:

But this guy had this infatuation with the judicial system. All he ever wanted was to be on the Supreme Court, but he basically outsourced his entire life to his wife, his three brothers, and his best friend and mentor, Theodore Roosevelt. And he turns down an opportunity to serve on the Supreme Court three times, including as Chief Justice. And there’s a moment where he’s either going to be president or he’s going to be on the Supreme Court, and a reporter asks his son, “What do you think it’s going to be?” And his son tells the reporter, “Ma wants him to be president.”

And so, he becomes president. He hates it. And his wife, who wanted him to be president more than anything, suffers a stroke in the first year of the presidency. And William Howard Taft ends up being a case study for anybody who has always known what they wanted, but they didn’t get it, because the timing wasn’t right. The circumstances weren’t right. They couldn’t make it work. And Taft, in his last 10 years of life, becomes Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and that last decade of his life is by far the happiest in his entirety.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah. Look, I mean, one of the few positions more rare and more difficult to get to than President of the United States is Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. That consolation prize of the presidency is not too shabby. Jared Cohen, congratulations on the book, Life After Power: Seven Presidents and Their Search for Purpose Beyond the White House. Thanks so much.

Jared Cohen:

Thank you, Preet.

Preet Bharara:

My conversation with Jared Cohen continues for members of the CAFE Insider community. In the bonus for Insiders, we discussed the recent developments in the wars unfolding in Ukraine and the Middle East.

Jared Cohen:

I worry that Russia is going to win by virtue of not losing, and Ukraine’s going to lose by virtue of us allowing the expectations to get so high.

Preet Bharara:

To try out the membership for just $1 for a month, head to cafe.com/insider. Again, that’s cafe.com/insider.


I want to end the show this week by addressing a hard truth. It is a hard truth, especially, if you find Donald Trump’s persona and policies as odious and as dangerous as I do. We are now just nine months from the election. That’s not very long. And if you care about the country and its democratic traditions, you hope that Donald Trump will lose.

In fact, you may hope he doesn’t become the Republican nominee. Hell, you may hope that he could be knocked off the ballot, prevented from running in some way. But the truth is, the likelihood of that is near zero. There are all these cases swirling around, state and federal, civil and criminal. We cover them all here on this podcast. I follow them closely, and they’re important. The law is important, and accountability is important.

I know many have the fervent hope that one of these legal matters will, once and for all, fail Trump and his political prospects for good. The hard truth is, that’s just not going to happen, at least not in time. This has been the story of Trump’s trials and tribulations for some time now. The hope has been that some prosecutor or some legal case would take Trump off the scene for good. But let’s review.

It wasn’t going to be Robert Mueller’s investigation. It wasn’t going to be the impeachment over Ukraine. It wasn’t going to be the impeachment over January 6th, and it certainly wasn’t going to be the Twenty-fifth Amendment. And now the cases have multiplied. And still, they won’t end Trump, the politician, or his potential next presidency.

It won’t be the defamation case brought by E. Jean Carroll. It won’t be the civil case brought by Letitia James. It won’t be the Fourteenth Amendment case in Colorado or the one in Maine or in any other state. The criminal cases won’t do it either, even if they conclude before the election, and they probably won’t. It won’t be the state case in Georgia brought by Fani Willis. It won’t be the state case in New York brought by Alvin Bragg, and it won’t be the two federal cases brought by Jack Smith.

Donald Trump, the politician, will not be put down in a courtroom. Even upon conviction, he can still run, and he can still win. Donald Trump, the politician, can be put down only at the ballot box. And if you think about it, isn’t that how it should be? Donald Trump, the politician, taken down not by a prosecutor or a robed jurist, but defeated by the people by a definitive and deafening drubbing at the polls, not by one judge or 12 jurors, but by 100 million citizens.

Defeating him in this way is, in my mind, a moral, ethical, democratic, and generational imperative. Donald Trump has said that immigrants poison the blood of this country. Well, I say that it is Donald Trump who defiles America. Donald Trump is the alien. With every wink at an insurrectionist and every nod to a dictator, he defiles America. With every insult to a veteran and every retreat from an ally, he defiles America.

With every threat to weaponize justice and every call to violence, he defiles America. With every lie, every obstruction, every election interference, he proves himself unfit and, yes, defiles America. So let’s beat him and all he stands for at the polling places, and let him live his last few, craven, miserable years as a profligate loser that he is, as determined not by a court or by some operation of law, but by the most awesome jury ever assembled, the American voting public. That’s who needs to send him packing into the dustbin of history. We the People.

Well, that’s it for this episode of Stay Tuned. Thanks again to my guest, Jared Cohen. If you like what we do, rate and review the show on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. Every positive review helps new listeners find the show. Send me your questions about news, politics, and justice. Tweet them to me, @PreetBharara, with the hashtag #AskPreet. You can also now reach me on Threads, or you can call and leave me a message at 669-247-7338. That’s 669-24-PREET, or you can send an email to letters@cafe.com.

Stay Tuned is presented by CAFE and the Vox Media Podcast Network. The executive producer is Tamara Sepper. The technical director is David Tatasciore. The deputy editor is Celine Rohr. The editorial producer is Noa Azulai. The audio producer is Nat Weiner. And the CAFE team is Matthew Billy, Jake Kaplan, and Claudia Hernández. Our music is by Andrew Dost. I’m your host, Preet Bharara. Stay tuned.