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Among the 46 US attorneys appointed by President Barack Obama asked to resign on Friday by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, one name seemed at least slightly curious: Preet Bharara, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York.
That’s because President Donald Trump invited him to Trump Tower in late November during the transition period and asked him to stay on at his post.
Following their meeting on November 30, Bharara told reporters he “agreed to stay on” after speaking with the then-President-elect.
“The President-elect asked, presumably because he’s a New Yorker and is aware of the great work that our office has done over the past seven years, asked to meet with me to discuss whether or not I’d be prepared to stay on as the United States attorney to do the work as we have done it, independently, without fear or favor for the last seven years,” Bharara said.
“I have already spoken to Sen. Sessions, who is, as you know, is the nominee to be the attorney general,” he continued. “He also asked that I stay on, and so I expect that I will be continuing to work at the southern district.”
One of the highest-profile US attorneys, Bharara built a reputation on vigorously going after corruption cases involving New York elected officials and aides of those office holders. In addition, the Wall Street industry was within his scope as US attorney.
Currently, his office is looking into a case related to a top adviser of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, as well as a probe into allegations that New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio and his allies engaged in a pay-for-play.
The Friday move by the Justice Department was to ask for the resignations of all remaining US attorney’s appointed by Obama. The move is not unusual. For example, soon after President Bill Clinton first took office, asked all 93 US attorneys to resign on the same day. The attorneys are political appointees.
“As was the case in prior transitions, many of the United States Attorneys nominated by the previous administration already have left the Department of Justice,” Justice Department spokesperson Sarah Isgur Flores told the New York Times in an email. “The Attorney General has now asked the remaining 46 presidentially appointed US Attorneys to tender their resignations in order to ensure a uniform transition.”
“Until the new US Attorneys are confirmed, the dedicated career prosecutors in our US Attorney’s Offices will continue the great work of the department in investigating, prosecuting, and deterring the most violent offenders.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer released a statement on Friday evening expressing his troubles with the requests for resignations.
“I’m troubled to learn of reports of requests for resignations from the remaining US attorneys, particularly that of Preet Bharara, after the president initiated a call to me in November and assured me he wanted Mr. Bharara to continue to serve as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District,” Schumer said. “While it’s true that presidents from both parties made their own choices for U.S. Attorney positions across the country, they have always done so in an orderly fashion that doesn’t put ongoing investigations at risk. They ask for letters of resignation but the attorneys are allowed to stay on the job until their successor is confirmed.”
“By asking for the immediate resignation of every remaining US attorney before their replacements have been confirmed or even nominated, the president is interrupting ongoing cases and investigations and hindering the administration of justice,” The New York Democrat continued.
The call for the resignations came less than a day after Fox News host Sean Hannity – an unabashed Trump supporter with a massive audience – called for a “purge” of the Justice Department employees appointed by Obama during his opening monologue.