CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig said the last month of promoting his book has been something of a whirlwind, so a return to Cherry Hill to share his work was a welcome homecoming.
Honig gave a reading and answered questions related to his newly published book, “Hatchet Man: How Bill Barr Broke the Prosecutor’s Code and Corrupted the Justice Department,” at the Cherry Hill Public Library on July 15.
“It is very nice to be here at the library on a Thursday night and not have a history paper due on Friday morning for a change,” Honig said.
The Cherry Hill native attended Woodcrest Elementary School, Henry C. Beck Middle School and Cherry Hill High School East. His father is a lawyer, but Honig admits pursuing a career in law wasn’t the plan while he was in high school.
A captivating psychology course at East had Honig interested in pursuing a career in psychology. But sitting through his dry Psychology 101 class at Rutgers made him rethink that decision. The following year, he took a course on justice and the law, and the rest is history. He went on to attend Harvard Law School and graduated in 2000.
Honig spent 14 years as a federal and state prosecutor, and from 2004 to 2012, he served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York. He tried federal cases related to organized crime, human trafficking, violent crime and public corruption and successfully prosecuted more than 100 members and associates of the Mafia for crimes that ran the gamut from racketeering to murder.
Honig said his mother had previously mentioned that the mob was known to have ties to Cherry Hill, a claim he wrote off as an urban legend. But when he began working in organized crime, Honig learned from a cop with near encyclopedic mob knowledge that Cherry Hill has, in fact, previously been home to the mob.
From 2012 to 2018, Honig worked for the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, serving as deputy director, then director. He oversaw cases related to street gangs, corrupt public officials, white collar offenders, illegal firearms, child predators and drug trafficking.
Today, in addition to his role at CNN, Honig is special counsel at Lowenstein Sandler in Essex and executive director of Rutgers’ Institute for Secure Communities.
And now, he’s added author to his resume with “Hatchet Man: How Bill Barr Broke the Prosecutor’s Code and Corrupted the Justice Department.” Honig said writing a book is the kind of thing he’d given some thought to at various times in his life, but it wasn’t until an editor from HarperCollins Publishers sent him a direct message on Twitter that he got to work. The message was simple, and Honig recalls it referenced a possible interest in writing a book on the justice department. Things came together quickly and Honig reached a deal with the publishing company about 48 hours after that Twitter exchange.
The timing was fortuitous in that Honig wrote his book during the summer and winter of 2020, while the world was still largely shut down. “Hatchet Man” explores former Attorney General William Barr’s abuse of power and the resulting damage to the American public’s faith in the Department of Justice.
The book juxtaposes Honig’s own experience working as a prosecutor for the Department of Justice with a look at how Barr corrupted the Department of Justice by using the institution to protect and advance the interests of former President Donald Trump.
Honig read a passage from his book at the library and signed copies, noting that one doesn’t have to be a genius or superhero to write a book. He quipped that those who know him can verify that “there’s nothing particularly special” about him.
Honig said the key is just to put yourself out there and start writing, though he admits publishing his book left him feeling particularly exposed to public opinion because many of the stories are personal.
“I voluntarily put myself on TV every day, and that has it’s fear element,” Honig acknowledged, “but writing a book, you are particularly vulnerable. I felt vulnerable because it is just out there.”
But while scary, Honig said writing a book was absolutely worth it, and in some ways almost therapeutic. Writing “Hatchet Man” allowed him to get his critiques of Barr as attorney general off his chest.
“It’s going to take real work to undo the damage that he’s done,” Honig said of Barr’s impact on the justice department
Honig stressed that employees of the department need to have integrity, principles and a drive to do their jobs the right way. And he believes that one of the impacts of the Trump era is the idea that there is no such thing as “truth.” But Honig stressed that denying something doesn’t make it so, and his work on CNN and the book are his efforts to set the record straight.
“I do hope that ultimately when Trumpism recedes — and we’re not anywhere near that — we will get back to some era where there is such a thing as truth.” Honig said.