Stay Tuned Transcript 08/08: Guns, Refugees, and Brexit (with David Miliband)

Stay Tuned Transcript 08/08: Guns, Refugees, and Brexit (with David Miliband)


Preet Bharara:              From CAFE, welcome to Stay Tuned. I’m Preet Bharara.

David Miliband:            It is a strange example. We’ve got conservative parties around the world who’ve become revolutionary. But that’s not what conservative parties are for, conservative parties are there to preserve institutions and to fend off radical change.

David Miliband:            We’re living at a time when Conservative Party in the UK you can draw your own parallels elsewhere, has become this revolutionary force. It does have echoes of the ultra left in that it’s elevated to the pinnacle of achievement, an ideological purity that is really dangerous.

Preet Bharara:              That’s David Miliband. He’s been in New Yorker for about a decade. But before that, he was head of policy for Tony Blair’s New Labour Party and foreign secretary, a cabinet position under Prime Minister Gordon Brown. We talked about Parliament, Brexit, the UK’s new Prime Minister, and his big job heading the International Rescue Committee. But first, let’s get to your questions. That’s coming up. Stay tuned.

Preet Bharara:              Hey, folks. Now CAFE has a weekly newsletter to help you make sense of the new cycle. See for yourself at Each Friday, the CAFE brief recaps News and Analysis of politically charged legal matters. Sign up to stay informed at And you’ll get show notes for Stay Tuned sent right to your email inbox. That’s

Thomas:                       Hi, Preet. This is Thomas calling from Atlanta, Georgia. I love your podcast. I have a question about the Second Amendment. I understand that it protects the rights of Americans to keep and bear arms ratified in 1791.

Thomas:                       I guess I’m really frustrated with all of the shootings and I’m wondering if you could speak a little bit to my bewilderment about how assault weapons and modern destructive weapon technology are allowed. Because back in 1791, the arms that they were thinking of that Americans should have a right to bear were primarily like muskets.

Thomas:                       I was thinking about this in terms of another constitutional and then issue which was prohibition, the 18th amendment started prohibition. And then it was changed by the 21st Amendment, which ended prohibition that was problematic and it was not working. So what can be done about a Second Amendment?

Preet Bharara:              Hey, Thomas. Thanks for your question. You raised a lot of interesting points that I think are getting fresh attention since the mass shootings over the past weekend, and also by virtue of the fact that we’re in a presidential contest, and every single one of the Democratic contenders as articles have been pointing out have the same view that things need to be done. Now, this point about taking literally the words that the founders put into the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights. If you want to take it literally, that it was meant to preserve and protect only the kinds of arms that were known to folks back in 1791. People have suggested provocatively when that must mean necessarily that all those assault weapons and other modern firearms can easily be prohibited. But that’s not how the Supreme Court has dealt with the issue.

Preet Bharara:              To me, what’s really important right now is to do what is possible to be done. You have 90 plus percent of people in America who are supportive of universal background checks, you have 70 plus percent of people in America supportive of a gun registry over a 30 day waiting period. All of which have mass support, and have had mass support for a very long time, and maybe some impetus to do something about it. I just saw in the last couple of days, more than one republican who had previously had a good NRA rating, suggesting openness to some of these provisions.

Preet Bharara:              A constitutional amendment, though not impossible, is a very difficult thing to achieve. And I’m not saying one way or the other that it’s a good idea. I mean yeah, it’s true that America decided to enact prohibition and decided to undo prohibition on the space of a few years. But my God, we’ve had the Equal Rights Amendment pending for years, and years, and years now and can’t get that done. And that seems a lot less controversial than doing something to the Second Amendment. It seems to me that there are a lot of common sense things we can do about which there is a lot of consensus and has been consensus for a long time. And they require simply passing some laws, not amending the Constitution. And let’s start with that. Let’s get that done. Let’s get focused on that.

Preet Bharara:              Here’s an email from listener Wendy Holtzman, who writes, “I love your show. Thank you for helping keep America informed. I don’t understand why the gun safety advocates in addressing the Second Amendment aren’t always invoking the Heller decision. It seems very straightforward to me. Can you shed some light on this?” Well Wendy, you actually shed light on this by quoting directly in your email to me from the Heller decision, which was an important seminal Supreme Court decision about the Second Amendment.

Preet Bharara:              And I’ll just read the rest of your email, in the Heller decision. Justice Scalia wrote, “Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner and for whatever purpose.” Furthermore, “Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on long standing prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms and sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.” That’s about right. There is a lot of room, even under current Supreme Court jurisprudence, even in opinions penned by the late Justice Scalia, that give a lot of room and support to all sorts of common sense regulations that are being proposed, even as we speak. So yeah, people should be signing to the Heller decision, and that’s Scalia’s portion of it in their debates with folks from the NRA and others who would oppose it.

Preet Bharara:              This question comes in a tweet from listener Rodrigo Schenkel. He writes, “Hi, Preet. Fan of the show from Honduras.” Nice to know we have international reach. “Do prosecutors take any special considerations regarding international political ramifications of the cases they bring forward against foreigners in US soil #askpreet? That’s a great question and a complicated one.

Preet Bharara:              As people know, if you follow the track record and the docket of the Southern District of New York, we bought a lot of cases internationally. We brought cases against narcotics traffickers, international arms traffickers, people who gave material support to terrorist organizations. So we had a constant presence in other countries dealing with law the enforcement agencies also on cyber, for example. One of my favorites statistics from my first year as US Attorney was this in any given year, prosecutors from my office in the Southern District visited between 40 and 45 different countries, because if crime goes global and the threat becomes International, the arm of the law has to get a little longer. Not everyone loved that. And of course, there were sometimes cases where they were sensitive issues relating to international relations and politics.

Preet Bharara:              As a general matter, the Justice Department pursues crimes that they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt. If there’s an impact on the United States, if someone’s trying to import drugs into the United States, if someone’s plotting a case against the United States, if someone’s engaging in espionage towards the United States, we brought the case. And that’s that, depending on the circumstances and the sensitivity.

Preet Bharara:              I’ll give an example of maybe the one of the most sensitive cases we brought during my entire time, along the lines that you’re mentioning. And that’s the Russian spy case from the summer of 2010, where we charged 10 Russian spies operating the United States, and then ended up engaging in a spy swap, after they pled guilty to those crimes. That was obviously something given the relationship between the US and Russia and the foreign policy implications that we brought, because we thought it was appropriate to bring, but they were discussions at the highest levels of the government including with the State Department about how we would proceed. So there are sensitivity to those things.

Preet Bharara:              My view was always, law and order governs. The rule of law matters, and doesn’t matter where you’re from. Other parts of the government like the State Department, if they knew about the case, would maybe put forward its objections or its sensitivities, and then someone at a higher pay grade than either the Attorney General the Secretary of State might weigh in and resolve a difference of opinion on those things. But it really depends on the circumstances, but sometimes it is a consideration.

Preet Bharara:              My guest this week is David Miliband, head of the International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit started in 1933 by Albert Einstein. The IRC offers humanitarian aid relief and resettlement for refugees and displaced people in more than 40 countries around the world. Last year, the IRC helped over 5,000 refugees resettled in America. And today, there’s a record 68 million displaced people around the world. If you’re interested in ways to empower those people in need, go to rescue org to find out how you can help.

Preet Bharara:              David Miliband and I discussed his own refugee story the conflicts that are displacing people and America’s role in the crisis. I also got his reactions to the UK’s new Prime Minister, and the easy comparisons of Boris Johnson to Donald Trump. That’s coming up. Stay tuned.

Preet Bharara:              Stay Tuned is supported by the New Yorker, some of the best writing in America today. Enjoy the works of Emily Nussbaum, Pulitzer Prize winning TV critic for The New Yorker or Masha Gessen who’s written about the rise of Vladimir Putin, and the disagreements between Trump Pelosi, and The Squad.

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Preet Bharara:              David Miliband, thank you so much for being on the show.

David Miliband:            Thanks, Preet. It’s good to be with you.

Preet Bharara:              So I should tell folks that we are not recording in our usual studio. We’re in your offices at the International Rescue Committee in Midtown, not far from Grand Central. So if you hear some background noise, that’s just the bustle of the great city of New York.

David Miliband:            Thank you for coming to our hood.

Preet Bharara:              Well, you’re very important, so I’ll travel for someone like you. So you’ve been in New York for how long?

David Miliband:            Been in New York for nearly six years.

Preet Bharara:              So do you now like New York more than London?

David Miliband:            No.

Preet Bharara:              Wow.

David Miliband:            Because I’m a Londoner.

Preet Bharara:              People start chanting send him back.

David Miliband:            I know. That’s the danger, but I can’t. You wouldn’t want someone who abandons their country quite so easily.

Preet Bharara:              You could say you like them close to the same, no.

David Miliband:            But then you’d say, “Oh, they’re the politician in you. You haven’t become a true NGO worker.”

Preet Bharara:              Right, there’s no winning it.

David Miliband:            You are a dodging, weaving politician. I feel very lucky to be living in such an extraordinary city, my family’s here. The organization I’m working for gives me enormous, it’s a real privilege. I mean, we’re doing amazing stuff in a way it could only exist in New York.

Preet Bharara:              Yeah.

David Miliband:            It’s not an accident that Einstein came to New York in the 1930s, that he founded the IRC to rescue Jews from Europe, that it’s built on that base to become this global organization. But London is an amazing city because it’s got 360 degrees of history, culture. Everything’s concentrated in a way that the finance, the politics, the culture, it’s a more centralized country. So in a way, it’s a bit of an unfair comparison to compare London with anywhere.

Preet Bharara:              I was just in London with my family, all three of my kids and with my wife, we quite liked it. Went to the Churchill war rooms.

David Miliband:            Yes.

Preet Bharara:              We spent hours in the Churchill war rooms, that was tremendous. I was amazed, my kids stopped at every significant spot, listen to the audio tour, did all the reading. And then we also went to Parliament and what I didn’t know until we were ushered into the room, unlike with the United States House of Representatives and Senate, you can’t go onto the floor as a tourist. It was a weekend for us in London, which was I guess why we got to stand in the two chambers.

David Miliband:            Because it was a weekend you were able to.

Preet Bharara:              It was a weekend, they let you do that.

David Miliband:            Did you have a special friend who was helping you?

Preet Bharara:              I did not have a special friend. I forgot to cal you.

David Miliband:            I could have been yours, I could have found you a special friend.

Preet Bharara:              No, it was good enough.

David Miliband:            The House of Commons is amazing but it’s so small.

Preet Bharara:              It’s so small. How many members are in the House of Commons?

David Miliband:            650.

Preet Bharara:              650, that room clearly cannot contain 650.

David Miliband:            So you’ve got people sitting on both sides opposite each other, which makes it unusual for a debating chamber because usually they’re in a round, and you’ve got standing room and sitting room. And so if you’ve got 600, 650 MPs in there, which they might be for Prime Minister’s questions or for a set piece debate, a big debate. It gives meaning to that word cacophony. I mean, the other thing, it is proper debate, because you can make a speech but it’s very unlikely if you’re a front rank politician to get through the speech without taking interruptions, interjections from the other side. Which if you refuse to take them, then you’re a chicken and you don’t win the debate. And then if you do take them, there are some smart alec on the other side who will quote something against you. And so it does, it’s a proper debate.

Preet Bharara:              There’s a new Prime Minister as of a week ago named Boris Johnson. Many Americans may know by his haircut, most people in the UK never voted for him.

David Miliband:            No, he’s a party leader. I mean, we’re a parliamentary democracy, parliament is sovereign. The Queen always has a Prime Minister. She’s never without a Prime Minister or without a government. And he was elected by his party-

Preet Bharara:              Firstly he was elected MP from his district, which is a small number like being elected a member of the House of Representatives in The States.

David Miliband:            Yeah, the average size of the constituency is about 65,000 people. So one 10th, the size of your congressional-

Preet Bharara:              But then a party leader is elected again, not by a large constituency, but by a subset of citizens in the UK about 140,000?

David Miliband:            Who were members of the Conservative Party.

Preet Bharara:              And how do you become a member of the Conservative Party?

David Miliband:            You sign up to the values of the Conservative Party and pay, I don’t know, 25 pounds a year or something.

Preet Bharara:              And that entitles you to vote?

David Miliband:            That entitles you to vote in a Tory leadership election. I mean, I have my own history with party leadership elections, which-

Preet Bharara:              We’re going to that.

David Miliband:            … we might get my get into or not, but I think that the bigger point is that the country’s in the biggest crisis it’s faced outside war time, probably ever. I mean, the referendum on members of the European Union has created a wrecking ball aimed not just that the economy of the United Kingdom, but also at its politics and its constitution. Because in Northern Ireland, in Scotland, the debate about whether the people there want to be part of the United Kingdom has been given fresh impetus. So it grieves me a lot to see not just the economic damage and the reputational damage, but the real threat that exists because a parliamentary democracy had pitted against it the mandate of a people’s vote.

David Miliband:            I spent three years as Foreign Minister arguing against having a referendum on the grounds that referendums were the prerogative of demagogues and dictators and that a parliamentary democracy would be threatened by the creation of an alternative mandate. And I’m very sorry to say that that is true. It’s not just sour grapes that I was on the wrong side of a 52, 48 decision. It’s that, at a time when liberal democracy is under threat all around the world, or 113 countries have had democratic recession since 2006. The UK should have added fuel to the fire with this challenge to parliamentary government.

Preet Bharara:              So on this issue of Brexit, which is very complicated for a lot of people especially on the side of the pond-

David Miliband:            It’s bit like California or maybe a better example, Texas deciding to secede from the union.

Preet Bharara:              Some people would favor that in America.

David Miliband:            Well actually, most continental Europeans are actually sad about Britain leaving not sorry, despite the fact that we can be a pain in the ass.

Preet Bharara:              But that referendum happened over your opposition and other people’s opposition but Brexit hasn’t been achieved yet. Now, Boris Johnson has taken office. He’s promising to do what by when?

David Miliband:            He’s promising that at the end of the six month extension for negotiations that was agreed between the previous government and the European Union, which is October 31, Halloween by unhappy coincidence. We will leave he says, come hell or high water, do or die. Whether or not there’s a negotiated agreement for Britain’s economic security, social, educational relations with the European Union. And this is not like deciding not to go ahead with a house purchase. It’s not saying no deal. I thought I was going to buy that house, but I’m not going to. I’m going to stay in the house I’ve got. It saying, I’m going to scrap the architecture and the water supply and the infrastructure of the house I’ve got, and then I’m going to move somewhere else, but I can’t tell you what it’s going to be at.

Preet Bharara:              So you’re saying it’s not responsible?

David Miliband:            It’s grossly irresponsible. It’s an act of unilateral political disarmament, it’s an act of economic lunacy, and it’s driven by a phantom. And the Phantom is the idea that Britain is a victim of European federalism, there is no European federalism and there is no victimhood for Britain.

Preet Bharara:              So do you think what Boris Johnson wants to have happened in six months will come to pass or is there a way to avert, what do you think will be a further crisis?

David Miliband:            Well, I think that he’s on the one hand, justifying this course of action on the grounds that it will force the European Union to make concessions. But that’s like saying, you see this revolver I’ve got in front of me, I’m going to pick it up and blow my brains out unless you do what I say.

Preet Bharara:              And sometimes that can work.

David Miliband:            Well yeah, but sometimes people say well blow your brains out as long as you don’t blow my brains out, you’re welcome to go ahead. So on the one hand, he’s trying to justify it on the grounds of increased leverage. On the other hand, he’s saying, “Look, it’s not going to be so bad breaking off these relations with the European Union is not so bad. There’s a big wide world out there. President Trump’s waiting to do a trade deal with me,” says Boris Johnson. He’s using those two justifications, I think in truth, he hasn’t really come to terms with the contradictions of either approach. My fear or my expectation, better way of putting it, is going to be stuck in between and come the last weeks of October, it’s going to be the markets passing judgment even more than they are at the moment. And I think the politics is very up in the air.

Preet Bharara:              But what happened to the markets when he took over?

David Miliband:            Well, they’ve tanked, and they’ve tanked because no deal Brexit is such a risky course. It is a strange example. We’ve got conservative parties around the world who’ve become revolutionary, that’s not what conservative parties are for. Conservative parties are there to preserve institutions, and to fend off radical change. We’re living at a time when Conservative Party in the UK you can draw your own parallels elsewhere, has become this revolutionary force in a way it does have echoes of the ultra left in that it’s elevated to the pinnacle of achievement an ideological purity that is really dangerous.

Preet Bharara:              Can you make any assessment of Boris Johnson’s leadership abilities apart from Brexit?

David Miliband:            Someone who’s made it to Prime Minister, you’d be foolish to underestimate him. Look, he’s got a good education. Some people would say he’s putting education to waste.

Preet Bharara:              He went to-

David Miliband:            He went to he went to the University, I went to actually, but he went to Eton before that and I didn’t go there. Look, don’t underestimate him. He’s got a good education. He’s unlike President Trump in an important way in that he really bends the wind. Whatever you say about President Trump, he’s been saying the same things about free trade since the 1980s. He’s got three or four consistent beliefs that he comes back to. Boris Johnson has far less of an ideological anchor, but he has attached himself to this Brexit cause, I think, because he saw it as the route to leadership to the Conservative Party and the Prime Ministership that he has always wanted.

Preet Bharara:              And he was correct.

David Miliband:            And he was great.

Preet Bharara:              Does he know history?

David Miliband:            He knows, he’s got his own version of history. Usually with him appearing in it but he’s written widely. He can quote Pericles to you better than I can. Look, it’s important not to underestimate him and I think that you shouldn’t compete with him at the level of a jokester. I think you have to take him the people like this on, on the grounds of whether or not they going to deliver for the people they say they’re going to support.

Preet Bharara:              Is he is he a populist?

David Miliband:            I don’t know what you mean by that. If by that you mean someone who’s antithetical to pluralism, which is what some of the academic literature would say about a populist, someone who wants to play the will of the people against a pluralist society. I don’t think that’s right. I think, is he trucking with nativism and nationalism? Yes, he is.

Preet Bharara:              What do you think Boris Johnson’s elevation means for UK, US relations?

David Miliband:            I think that he is going to throw in his law with making deals with President Trump. I think he’s going to want to cleave towards the Trump administration and he’ll have very little power to say no to what they want. The constraint on him is that not just President Trump personally but the policies of the Trump administration, whether in respect of climate change or in respect of immigration or in respect of Iran, a very unpopular in the UK, and that will be a constraint.

Preet Bharara:              So we talk about Donald Trump a little bit. There was something of a scandal in the last couple of months with respect to the UK ambassador to the US. And you have obviously a lot of experience with diplomacy and foreign relations so none of this is new and novel to you. So there’s some cable sent by the UK Ambassador that were leaked that said some derogatory things about Donald Trump, his leadership style, and maybe his abilities that became known. And so then under pressure, he resigned from the position, not before which Donald Trump himself tweeted some things personally about him. I believe you said with respect to that incident that Boris Johnson was spineless. Why did you say that?

David Miliband:            Because in the debate about that, Boris Johnson refused to support the ambassador while he was still in post. There was a conservative leadership election and Boris Johnson refused to support an ambassador and his right to express his opinion. I thought that was terrible really, not just because he’s a former foreign secretary. But Kim Darroch, the ambassador was a man of enormous common sense. He was one of the least pompous people. I know he was accused of pomposity by President Trump but he wasn’t a pompous person. He’s an extremely experienced diplomat and I thought it was the responsibility of an aspirant Prime Minister to support public service and support the civil servants in the work they’re doing.

Preet Bharara:              Do you think it was tenable? Though, for someone who should not have had those cables leak, it was giving his best opinion and assessment, which is what people do all the time. And by the way, many would argue that were not wrong assessments. Was it tenable for him to continue though once those things became public?

David Miliband:            Well, I certainly think the cost of his enforced resignation was greater than the cost of him staying on. He was due to retire anyway in six to 12 months. And I think that the message that went to the rest of the Foreign Office which is beware what you say, is not a good message because in the modern age, I was Foreign Minister I didn’t need an ambassador to do the routine things. I could text the Foreign Minister and say, “You’re going to the following meeting, I need to catch you for five minutes.” I could text another minister to say that. But you do need a really good ambassador to tell you what’s really going on underneath the surface of the country that you’re negotiating with or dealing with. And so I think there was a folly there.

Preet Bharara:              Do you think that nations generally in the West are turning more inward?

David Miliband:            Yes.

Preet Bharara:              Is that a reversible course?

David Miliband:            Well yes, it is. And I think it has to be reversed. Look, first of all the facts about the inward turn our evidence, you don’t have to argue that there’s isolationism along the rampage to see that post the financial crisis, post the failings in Iraq and Afghanistan. There’s been a drawing in by the West. Secondly, is it a problem? Yes, it’s a huge problem because we’re living in an age of interdependence. We’re living in an age when countries and peoples are more closely linked together and not just by climate, but by concerns about public health or nuclear security or economic interdependence. And so the need for countries to cooperate is greater than ever.

David Miliband:            And it’s also and I see that in my own work. Look, the International Rescue Committee is a global humanitarian charity. We’re facing what I call an age of impunity. That means that bad actors around the world drop chemical weapons, they besieged communities, they target civilians, they target aid workers. It’s been Western countries of liberal democratic hue, that have pushed back against that over the last 70 years. All countries signed up to the UN Charter, but it was driven from the 1941 Atlantic Charter, the meeting of Churchill and Roosevelt in Newfoundland, who said that the post war order could not repeat the mistakes of the interwar period that the rights of people needed to sit alongside the rights of states to build international order. That is now what is in retreat, it’s not just Western power in retreat. It’s the values of the Enlightenment that are in retreat too and they’re founded on the rights of individuals.

David Miliband:            Can it be reversed? I think it needs to be reversed not just in the interest of prosperity, but in the interest of peace frankly, because an international order in the modern age that doesn’t have institutions for global cooperation is going to be a very unstable and very unequal international disorder.

Preet Bharara:              So the retreat from what had been the international order, what are the origins of that you think?

David Miliband:            I think the origins of the retreat are significantly twofold. One is foreign policy failure, notably in Iraq. But the second is the economic crisis, the seeds of which came before 2008, but which exploded in 2008. There’s one other factor which is obviously relevant to this, the shift in economic power towards emerging economies, notably China, but not only means that there needed to be a shift in the global balance of power. There was a shift in the global balance of economic power and it needs to be reflected in political power as well. I think that those are the origins of it.

David Miliband:            I think it was inevitable that there had to be a rebalancing. The way in which the West has gone into retreat has put the most vulnerable people in the world at a disadvantage, has weakened the multilateral system at a time when it’s needed more than ever and has contribution to global instability.

Preet Bharara:              What in particular about the Iraq War votes on it and individual countries and also the prosecution of it has helped to unravel the world order?

David Miliband:            I think you can think about that politically, morally, and institutionally. Politically, it turned out to be a disastrous strategic error, morally, the ground that was lost as a result of Abu Ghraib and other elements. And institutionally obviously, the going round the UN set a very bad precedent. I was peripherally involved in Tony Blair’s speech in Chicago in 1999. At the time of the Kosovo conflict, which set five tests in what he called a Doctrine of the International Community, and one of those tests was about the UN and its role. So I think institutionally, there’s been an undermining and it’s given licensed all sorts of bad or rogue actors to believe that they can just do their own thing.

Preet Bharara:              So one of the big things you dealt with early on in your tenure as Foreign Minister was the killing of Alexander Litvinenko. Do you think the West has learned anything from that incident and are there ever any consequences for Russia and for Putin for engaging that kind of conduct?

David Miliband:            Well, I think the West has learned some lessons. It was a rogue action, it was the actions of a rogue state. And they’ve been repeated subsequently in the invasion of Georgia, the invasion of Crimea, then the attempted assassination of Mr. Skripal, a former KGB agent, now British citizen. And frankly, in the attempt to destabilize liberal democracy, I know you’ve discussed the Miller etc. There was and is a sustained attempt to destabilize American democracy, there was and is a sustained attempt to destabilize European democracy funding of far right parties interference in elections.

David Miliband:            The question is not whether we’ve learned the lessons, the question is whether the Russians have learned. And I’m afraid the lesson that they’ve learned so far is that they can get away with a lot, as long as they fragment and weaken the countries of liberal democracy. And if they find allies elsewhere, and that’s what they’ve done that they’re obviously a declining economy in various ways, but they are mobilizing their power in a far more effective way than we are.

Preet Bharara:              Which leads us to the work that you’re doing now. It’s very important work at the IRC relating to the plight of refugees around the world.

David Miliband:            Refugees and displaced people.

Preet Bharara:              Refugees and displaced people, yes. Thank you. You yourself are the child of refugees. Tell us about your background and your parents.

David Miliband:            It’s interesting how it’s become perhaps obviously more important to me, given the job I’m doing. But in a British way, I think I probably didn’t examine my own history very much when I was younger. I mean, introspection is not a British characteristic. It’s not one of our national strengths. But when I think about it, my childhood was … I can read things into the way my parents lived their lives and brought up me and my brother as kids that speaks to that.

David Miliband:            My dad was a refugee from Belgium in 1940. He was born in Brussels. He lived in Brussels where his dad was a leather worker. My mom was a refugee from Poland in 1946. She survived the war in Poland, both Jewish and my mom’s father was killed. Quite recently, we discovered he was killed in a concentration camp outside Stuttgart in January 1945, actually. And the Holocaust was the background music to my childhood. I was born in 1965. And my parents, maybe like many people who are affected by the war because they’d been through and they’d seen such hell. And they’d lost so many people in their families. They wanted to protect their offspring, they want to give them more security.

David Miliband:            And so I had a very middle class, unspectacular childhood that was notable, I look back for its security, not particularly wealthy but secure. An assumption in the 1970s middle class that you could graduate into the middle class. And so I think that when I applied for the job here at the International Rescue Committee, I said there were three reasons I wanted to take the job. One was that I liked difficult problems and the problems that the IRC faces, how do you get medical aid into Syria? How do you teach girls suffering under the Taliban in parts of Afghanistan? How do you promote successful integration of refugees into societies where they land? I like difficult questions. Secondly, I thought that the IRC was bit of a sleeping giant, what could be more striking than to be founded by Einstein. And thirdly, I said both my parents were refugees. And so I had a sense that I could close the circle by giving back to people who weren’t probably the same religion as my parents who weren’t in the same situation but had elements of commonality that drew me to that cause.

Preet Bharara:              Do you have a recollection of what the attitude was in the UK and elsewhere towards refugees and displaced persons when you were younger and has it changed?

David Miliband:            I mean, Britain’s obviously different from America in that it’s much less of an immigrant society, although people have been coming to Britain for thousands of years from around Europe. Now, I’m not a practicing Jew, so I’m more culturally Jewish than religiously Jewish, if you know what I mean. And I spent four years of my child in Leeds. I’ve not been in an especially cosmopolitan part of the UK. I didn’t feel hostility but I suppose I went out of my way to integrate, and I didn’t particularly advertise my difference. When I was Foreign Secretary I always used to say to people, “I’m a foreign secretary who’s Jewish, not a Jewish foreign secretary.” There’s a nuance there that’s important.

David Miliband:            Now the antagonism to foreigners, peaks at odd times. I mean, in the 90s in the UK, there was huge animus to allowing people from Hong Kong to come to the UK. It turns out I mean, a lot of them went to Canada, they’ve made huge successes of themselves. It would have been great if we’d have allowed them. And there was a peak of hostility in the late 90s when we were in government about Kosovo and refugees from the Balkans. And you know from your own history in the 20s here, it’s not a new phenomenon. Even in I think 1940, The Washington Post did a poll, two thirds of Americans didn’t want to allow Jews to come to America. So I didn’t have a strong sense of that as a child, but I think I didn’t go out of my way to find it either.

Preet Bharara:              I’ll be back with David Miliband, right after this. Stay tuned.

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Preet Bharara:              Before the break, David Miliband told me about peaks of intolerance towards people from other places. I asked him, does this happen organically or is it the leaders stoking fear?

David Miliband:            Well, it’s two way isn’t it? It’s evidently two way in that you can legitimize the illegitimate if the leadership is of a particular character. But I think that there’s also the fact of sheer scale and pace of change in demography. People write about this, some of the peaks are associated with the percentage of foreign born in different countries and the pace of change. And that’s certainly been the case in different parts of Europe. We should never underestimate what a challenge it is to integrate people into a society, nor the benefits that can come from it. And I saw that for myself in the way Britain changed actually, if you think about Britain in the 70s, and Britain in the 2000s, or 2010s. Now, it’s undoubtedly a far more confident or ha became a much more confident as well as diverse country. And what’s tragic, I think post the financial crisis is how that confidence has been lost.

Preet Bharara:              So the IRC, can you give us a sense of the scope of the issue that the IRC deals with? But then also what’s impressive to me, and maybe people don’t appreciate this. The IRC is a huge organization with a presence in so many places. Describe both the apparatus that you have, and what the biggest challenges are?

David Miliband:            So we’re an international humanitarian aid organization that works across the arc of crisis from the war zone. So Northwest Syria today, parts of South Sudan, parts the Democratic Republic of Congo, we work from the war zone to the rest of that country where people flee to escape violence. We work in the neighboring states where there are refugees, people who’ve left their own countries as result of war and conflict. We work on refugee transit routes because people are fleeing through Niger up to Libya trying to get to Europe, and we work to help resettle refugees and asylum seekers in countries that they land and we’ve got 25 offices across the US that are resettling refugees. The Trump administration has massively reduced the number of refugees who are allowed to come.

David Miliband:            But we’ve got 190 field sites around the world, employing 13,000 employees, with about 15,000 additional auxiliary workers who are daily paid staff. We’re now an 809, $800 million organization. We’ve more or less doubled in size in the last six years. And we are an organization that doesn’t just deliver health or water and sanitation or education, we try and meet the needs of the whole person.

David Miliband:            And on the wall behind me, you can see our strategy map, we say that we’re helping people survive, recover and gain control of their lives. Our work fits into five main areas of helping people survive, helping their health, their education, their income. Economics is really important to us, because refugees and displaced people are out of their own homes for a long time. They need an independent source of income as well as international aid. And just to finish the picture. We’re more or less 75% government funded from governments around the world of that $800 million and we’re 25% funded by individuals, foundations and corporations.

Preet Bharara:              How many different countries?

David Miliband:            Are we in?

Preet Bharara:              That fund you?

David Miliband:            That fund us? Probably about half a dozen main funders. The US, UK, Sweden, European Union, there’s the whole Germany, and private donors are spread around the world.

Preet Bharara:              When a country like the US under the leadership of Trump dramatically reduces the number of refugees and displaced persons admitted, how does that affect you and the organization?

David Miliband:            Well, it affects us both directly and indirectly, the direct way it affects us is that more refugees are trapped outside this country waiting to be allowed in. I mean, there are 100,000 Iraqis who actually worked for the US military or diplomats who have a special visa status that will allow them to come to the US and only 150 have been allowed in this year. These are people who put their lives on the line for the US. Whatever you think about the Iraq or Afghan wars, these are people who put themselves on the line.

David Miliband:            But also refugees from Congo or elsewhere, all religions 80% reduction in Muslim refugees. 60% reduction in Christian refugees under the Trump administration, so we are directly affected because we’re helping fewer people as a result of those decisions. Indirectly, there are governments around the world who say, “Well, Trump administration’s not taking refugees, we’re not going to take refugees. In fact, we will push them out.”

David Miliband:            I suppose I should have said one other direct effect. If you think about the crisis on the southern border, the reduction in international USAID to countries like El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras that has a pretty direct effect too. A, we’re working in those countries but B, it helps drive the flow of people that we’re seeing to the southern border at the moment.

Preet Bharara:              I’m struck by something you said a second ago. So the American president decides we’re going to reduce the numbers. And then leaders of other countries say, “Well, maybe we’ll just follow suit.” Is that because they’re persuaded by some logic, or they’re using it as an excuse because they don’t want to spend the money on those things?

David Miliband:            They using it more as an excuse and they’re also worried about what their own population are going to say. In 2016 belatedly, the Obama administration raised the number of refugees being allowed into the US for more or less 60, 65,000 to 90,000. And hey presto, a lot of other countries stepped up to do the same thing. So it’s not rocket science when the US reduces from 90,000 to 20,000, then you get a reduction. Now, I think it’s important to give your listeners a bit of a sense of the scale though, because refugee resettlement helps a tiny proportion of those who are expelled from their own countries by conflict or persecution.

David Miliband:            Around the world today, you’re talking about 29 and a half million refugees and asylum seekers, people who’ve left their own country not for economic reasons, but for political reasons. And another 41, 42 million who are still within their own country, but are homeless as a result of war or persecution. So these are the world record breaking levels. And the power of example, is especially striking at a time when the problem has got so much worse.

Preet Bharara:              What are the arguments you would make or you would give people who say, “Look, we have enough of our own problems, we can’t solve other people’s problems.” What’s the argument politically, emotionally that people should be making about why they should care about this more?

David Miliband:            Well, I think first these people are productive members of society when they arrive. We know that from all the data, but we also know Einstein became a proud American.

Preet Bharara:              And remind us again, you said it I think. I didn’t want people to miss it. What’s the relationship of Albert Einstein to the IRC?

David Miliband:            So Albert Einstein helped create the International Rescue Committee. When Eleanor Roosevelt reported to him that President Roosevelt was not willing to admit more Jews into the US, Albert Einstein and 50 others in New York helped set up the International Rescue Committee to work in occupied Europe to get fake passports to help people escape from the Nazis. So the first point is from Einstein to Madeleine Albright to Sergey Brin. People have come to America and being productive contributors here not a burden here, very important. Secondly, it’s harder to get to the US as a refugee than through any other route. In other words, the security vetting is real and serious. Third, there’s a moral obligation to those in Iraq and Afghanistan who’ve worked for you, put their lives on the line to come here. Fourth, and very importantly, we’re not talking about most of the world’s refugees coming here. The Trump administration perfectly legitimately says we want to build resilience of people in the countries to which refugees go. Most of those countries are poor countries not rich countries.

David Miliband:            Bangladesh, has taken 750,000 Rohingya refugees in the last 18 months. Uganda has taken one and a half million South Sudanese refugees. These are countries with income per head, one fiftieth of the US level.

Preet Bharara:              So how do you explain then the generosity, and the welcoming nature of a country like Bangladesh?

David Miliband:            Because they felt that the ethnic cleansing going on next door was so unconscionable that even though they didn’t want the Rohingya to become Bangladeshis, they don’t consider them to be real Bengalis. They saw that blocking, building a wall if you like, keeping the fences closed was unconscionable. I mean, I asked someone in northern Uganda. He was the deputy chairman of the local district council in northern Uganda. And I said to him, “There must be politics here because there are loads of poor Ugandans who are here.” And he said, “Look, these people are our brothers, and they helped us 20 or 30 years ago, in the worst days of Idi Amin, and we have to help them now.”

Preet Bharara:              You won’t answer this question, but if I had to ask you to rank countries that are facing an influx of potential refugees, which are the most welcoming?

David Miliband:            Yeah, why do you think I won’t answer it. I mean, I will answer it. No, I will.

Preet Bharara:              Please.

David Miliband:            I mean, it’s quite surprising, really. If you look at employment and other aspects of welcome, Uganda is actually top of the list. Uganda gives every refugee who arrives land, they let them travel anywhere in the country, they give them full access to public services, including kids and they support them into work. The 40% of female refugees, we just put out a report about this, 40% of female refugees in Uganda are actually working. So it’s surprising that Uganda comes out bottom of the league. I mean, and it’s hard to try and figure that because of course, those who are most vicious towards refugees don’t let them in in the first place. So it’s what we know is that there are killing fields in Syria, Yemen, that are humanitarian catastrophes, and that’s the worst place to live.

Preet Bharara:              What’s the most gratifying part of this job that you do?

David Miliband:            The feeling that I’m making a difference, that we’re making differences. My colleagues are making a difference day by day. Someone once went to DRC; Democratic Republic of Congo and said, “If you look at the statistics, you get depressed. If you look at the people, you have hope.” And if you’re in politics, you can see the big picture but the danger is that you lose sight of the individual. If you’re in an NGO where you are trying to make the world better one life at a time. The great gratification is that you can see the individuals we think we helped 27 million individuals last year, but the great gratification is when you see the individuals, the great danger is that you lose sight of the big picture. And part of my job is to make sure that we both attend to the details of being the best humanitarian aid agency in terms of the quality of what we do. And the most insightful in terms of drawing the bigger lessons.

Preet Bharara:              Are you following the presidential primary?

David Miliband:            Of course, I mean-

Preet Bharara:              Closely?

David Miliband:            … I live here and it matters for whether you’re a citizen or not. So yes, of course.

Preet Bharara:              It does. So given what you understand about what it takes to make it to the top in politics, who impresses you in this field?

David Miliband:            It’s a hell of a system you’ve got. My God, it’s a brutal system. I mean, so-

Preet Bharara:              It goes on forever.

David Miliband:            … I admire them all for being up there. I think that politics has got to be about what you’re for as well as what you’re against. One of the hardest lessons I learned was that if you don’t define yourself, you get defined by your opponents. And you define yourself first and then you can define others. That’s the big challenge.

David Miliband:            Now I don’t think it’s really right, if I’m heading an NGO to start picking out individual politicians. I have to dance around that. I do think that the danger of the whole of politics, focusing around a particular Twitter handle is real. And in the end, there are deep yearnings, I think across this country, for a politics that delivers real change and that’s meant to be the purpose of progressive politics. And I think that while I understand why the democrats are fighting with each other, they’re going to need to figure out what’s the forward agenda economically, socially, politically, for this country, which has got more resources than ever before but also, in some ways more challenges than ever before.

Preet Bharara:              Let me ask you one question about politics.

David Miliband:            Of course.

Preet Bharara:              I’ve been thinking about this issue. And that is very successful politicians project a theme of hope. Barack Obama ran on hope and also change. It is also true that sometimes the way to get people to get to the polls is not just through inspiration and hope, but also to cause them to understand, appreciate and maybe even fear the consequences of not going to the polls so the consequences of the status quo, or in this case a second Trump term. How do you think a good politician balances the need for giving people hope and also causing them to have sufficient fear to vote their interests?

David Miliband:            Well, sometimes people say hope beats fear and I don’t really buy that. I think that the way I would put it is that you’ve got to make yourself the repository of hope. And you’ve got to make the other guy or girl the repository of risk. You’ve got to be the candidate that makes change real. But you’ve also got to show that the other side represent a risk to things that you hold dear. That’s obviously different in your system than in ours because it’s probably over personalized here. But even in the parliamentary system, personality matters a lot.

David Miliband:            But the short answer is I think you’ve got to do both. I think the real challenge for people of my place on the political spectrum but also people who do politics in the way I do, is that we end up sounding like problem solvers who are technocratic. And I think as well as being a repository for hope and crystallizing why your opponent represents risk. I think there’s another dualism that one has to really come to terms with and that is how you combine reason, which I believe in with passion, which is necessary. If you try and use reason to beat passion, it won’t work. You need reason and passion, as well as hope to win.

Preet Bharara:              Is there a piece of advice that you’ve gotten political or otherwise, that you’d like to share with folks?

David Miliband:            I think that the best advice for anyone really who wants a leadership position is to be a good listener, as well as a good lecturer. The best politicians I think, are really, really good at listening. They find the right people to listen to, and they don’t use that to substitute for their own mind because the worst thing is to be a politician who defines your own reality. I’m a great believer, you should know your own mind but not define your own reality. But I think listening is an under estimated virtue in politics.

Preet Bharara:              And also in the practice of Law.

David Miliband:            Well, I didn’t know about that. I don’t know whether I’m going to be a lawyer or not.

Preet Bharara:              You have to hear the other person’s point of view before you destroy it, before you dismantle it. And you also have to understand, it’s one of the best answers that I’ve got. I asked that question to a lot of folks. If you’re not listening, then you’re not understanding how it is that that person needs to process information. You can’t put yourself in that other person’s shoes, you can never persuade them of anything, if you’re not listening to them and understanding the mode of their communication with you.

David Miliband:            I think I really learned that when I was doing diplomacy, because of course, the first rule of diplomacy is to put yourself in the position of the person who you’re negotiating with. And you can’t do that if you’re not able to really listen to them and figure out where’s the chink in their armor? Is it that there’s a logical breakdown? Or have they given a hint that emotionally they’re responsive to a certain form argument? Or will a bit of flattery get you there? Or do you have to play the hard man? I mean, there’s different ways of doing it.

Preet Bharara:              So with respect to the IRC, so many challenges you’ve talked about, what are the pressing things you’re dealing with now, whether you’re talking about diseases like Ebola or anything else?

David Miliband:            Ebola is a really good example of how the modern geography of poverty and risk is changing because Democratic Republic of Congo is a country that’s multiply challenged, not just by misgovernance, poverty, corruption, war and climate change, but also public health emergency. We’ve just heard today that Rwanda is closing its border, because Goma my where I was visiting six to eight weeks ago has now had two cases. It’s on the Rwanda DRC border. We’re running 59 health screening centers across Eastern DRC. So obviously, we’re worried about our own staff. But we’re also worried about the contagion effect, because the striking feature of the crises we’re dealing with today is that they don’t stay within their own country. They get exported, both through people and through the movement of people most obviously.

Preet Bharara:              Diseases do not respect border.

David Miliband:            Diseases do not respect borders. We also got an important job. We have to follow the news, so the Rwanda decision is important, but where’s Syria on the agenda? I’ve got 450, 500 staff in the northwest and the northeast of Syria. That crisis is going on. Yemen is the world’s largest humanitarian catastrophe. 24 million people in humanitarian need a misbegotten war strategy of which I’m afraid the US is a supporter, which has not just brought humanitarian catastrophe, but has actually empowered precisely the people that the Saudi led coalition says it opposes. So the Iranians are stronger today than they were four or five years ago.

David Miliband:            So we have to balance the emergency response with the need to stay in a sustainable way. And I think that when I say we work across the arc of crisis, it speaks both to the acute emergency and to the chronic. And unless the world gets better at dealing with the chronic emergencies is going to face many more acute emergencies.

Preet Bharara:              So we have a lot of thoughtful listeners who care about the world and want to get involved. If someone wanted to be involved in these issues, or specifically to be of help or assistance to the IRC. Is there something that people can do?

David Miliband:            Would be great if they live in the US, they could actually come and help at one of our 25 offices around the US where we continue to help refugees, asylum seekers across the country. They should visit, which is our website. I hope that if they’re an employer, whether here or elsewhere, whether in the US or elsewhere, they would be interested in hiring refugees. I hope they’ll use their voice.

David Miliband:            One of the most moving things for me, I gave a talk in San Francisco and afterwards, this woman came up to me in floods of tears Vietnamese woman, and I said, “Why are you crying?” And she said, “My parents were Vietnamese refugees and they never wanted to talk about their experience. They never wanted to talk about their history. They never wanted to talk about their gratitude to America.” And she said, “I think because they and others, like them refuse to talk about what it was to be a refugee. We brought the backlash on ourselves.” So I hope that if they visit they can see the facts.

David Miliband:            And then the final thing obviously, I’m British so I hate talking about money, but I’ve lived in New York for six years. So now I can very openly and avowedly appeal that any of your listeners with deep pockets, we’d love to have them add to our growing list of private supporters because with governments and retreat, it’s got to be individuals, foundations and corporations which step up.

Preet Bharara:              It’s God’s work. Thank you, David Miliband.

David Miliband:            Thank you very much, Preet.

Preet Bharara:              The conversation continues for members of the CAFE Insider community. This week, David and I talked about how the West should deal with China, how accountability is built into the parliamentary system, why he misses politics and what he told me to do next time I’m in London. To hear the exclusive Stay Tuned bonus and the exclusive weekly CAFE Insider podcast, go to

Preet Bharara:              Hey, folks. Obviously, everyone in the country is mourning the loss of life in El Paso and in Dayton. And that’s what people are talking about in Congress, although they’re currently on vacation, and that’s what I’ve been talking about on the show and among my friends and former colleagues too. This week in the CAFE Insider newsletter, I wrote my weekly essay on just these very issues. And I thought this week I would just read you what I wrote from August 7, 2019. Controlled anger – a lifeblood of change?

Preet Bharara:              Dear reader, last week in this space, I reflected on two emotions that have the power to usher in substantial political change; hope, and fear. There are to be sure many powerful emotions one could so describe. Since Sunday however, I’ve been experiencing one particular visceral feeling, anger. The breaking news came Saturday afternoon. Another mass shooting after last week’s Carnage at the Gilroy garlic festival, this time at a busy Walmart in El Paso, Texas.

Preet Bharara:              Early reports indicated at least 20 shot in the sister town to Ciudad Juárez in Mexico. The shooter drove 10 hours, an arsenal in tow to massacre Mexicans because I sat down in a hateful screed. He believed they were invading America. Another community shocked, wounded and changed. You watch the story unfold. Hope the early reporting is wrong. Brace for the worst.

Preet Bharara:              Even before the full body count is known, news outlets post graphics to rank the latest incident in terms of lethality. At this point the El Paso shooting is the sixth deadliest shooting on US soil. I heard someone on TV say that every mass shooting is both the same and different. I nodded when he said that, the ark does seem ever similar. The social, political and personal aftermath of a mass shooting in America has sadly become an exercise in deja vu. You see the predictable statements of career politicians. You hear stories of heroism specific to this chaos, but universal in what they say about certain people’s capacity for courage under literal fire.

Preet Bharara:              It’s all too awful to contemplate, but also utterly familiar expressions of condolence seem insufficient calls for change seem futile. So you go to bed sadder, a bit more fearful it can happen in your community. Not very hopeful anyone will do a damn thing about it. The status quo seems fixed, it is wearying.

Preet Bharara:              Millions of Americans woke up Sunday morning, expecting to hear more details about the El Paso shooting, motivations of the shooter, tributes to the fallen, updates on the wounded. There was that of course, but there was something else. Terrible news of another mass shooting overnight in Dayton, Ohio. Nine people murdered in under a minute. The cables had to go split screen, toggling between the terror in El Paso and the terror in Dayton between to mask gun slang separated by only 13 hours. And in that circumstance, the deja vu feels not just maddening, but grotesque, because now there are two unspeakable tragedies unfolding in parallel. And now the same old platitudes thoughts and prayers, the same confounding calls to action now is not the time to talk about politics or legislation. The same nonsensical status quo statements sound downright pathetic, because you just heard them yesterday. For me on Sunday afternoon, in the wake of two senseless murder scenes, sadness and heartbreak, gave way to anger, boiling anger, anger at the shooters, but also angered a racist president who ferments hate and white nationalism.

Preet Bharara:              And then ever sharply and unforgivingly, anger at the insufferable Craven boobs we call lawmakers who perennially block all common sense laws on guns. More than 90% of Americans support universal background checks, yet no action. 75% of Americans support a 30 day waiting period for gun sales, yet no action. 70% of Americans support requiring privately owned guns to be registered with the police, no action.

Preet Bharara:              There was something else that added to my anger. It was not just the inexcusable inaction. It was also the utter cowardice on the part of so many lawmakers, especially republicans in their radio silence. So many felt that it’s suffice to post a banal Tweets of condolence and commiseration, but went missing from the airwaves to defend their policy views. CNN reported that after the Dayton shooting, 49 out of 50 GOP lawmakers declined invitations to discuss the shootings on air, who knew politicians were so coy. First Responders braved bullets to save innocence and to American cities and yet scores of elected officials fled the public square in the aftermath.

Preet Bharara:              If you believe in the status quo, say so and defended it. If you believe in change, then fight for it. If you can’t do either, then step aside and leave your office to someone with integrity. It’s pretty simple.

Preet Bharara:              I am angry, so are many of you. Anger isn’t reason. Anger isn’t analysis. Anger isn’t evidence. Anger isn’t a policy proposal reform or solution. Raw anger can cloud and distort more than illuminate, so one needs to be careful but controlled anger can be the lifeblood of change. At least I hope so.

Preet Bharara:              So don’t let your anger fade. Don’t let this moment pass. Let your representative know how you feel. Especially let your senator know. Call, march, vote, give.

Preet Bharara:              Well, that’s it for this episode of Stay Tuned. Thanks again to my guest, David Miliband.

Preet Bharara:              Stay Tuned is presented by CAFE. The executive producer is Tamara Sepper. The senior producer is Aaron Dalton. The CAFE team is Carla Pierini, Julia Doyle, Calvin Lord, Vinay Basti, and Geoff Isenman. Our music is by Andrew dost. I’m Preet Bharara. Stay tuned.