President Donald Trump reached out to Preet Bharara one day before Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked for Bharara’s resignation along with those of 45 other US attorneys who had been appointed by President Barack Obama.
The New York Times reported late Saturday night that an aide to Trump had called Bharara’s office on Thursday but that Bharara had not responded because of protocols “governing a president’s direct contact with federal prosecutors.”
Bharara notified Sessions’ office of the president’s call and then called Trump’s aide back to let the person know he could not respond because of those protocols. One day later, Bharara was asked to resign as US attorney for the Southern District of New York. He refused and was fired on Saturday.
“The president reached out to Preet Bharara on Thursday to thank him for his service and to wish him good luck,” a White House official who was not authorized to speak on the record told Business Insider on Sunday.
Matt Miller, a former Justice Department spokesman and top aide to Attorney General Eric Holder, said the call “still means the president was either unaware of the prohibitions on contacts between the White House and DOJ officials, or he ignored them, and either is an indictment of Don McGahn,” the White House counsel.
On Thursday, moreover, the day Trump reached out to Bharara, Sessions held a call with all the US attorneys across the US and wished them “happy hunting” on cases, Miller said, indicating that Trump “had decided to fire all of them on Thursday but hadn’t bothered to tell their own attorney general.”
The Department of Justice declined to comment.
- Thomson Reuters
In his seven years as US attorney for the Southern District of New York, Bharara earned a reputation as the “sheriff of Wall Street” for his high-profile prosecutions of white-collar crime. Trump Tower, and therefore the Trump Organization, fell within Bharara’s jurisdiction of Manhattan.
While it is standard practice for a new administration to ask all US attorneys held over from the previous administration to resign, Bharara, who was appointed by Obama in 2009, had been assured by Trump after he won the election that he would be allowed to stay on as US attorney.
Trump had reportedly asked Bharara to stay as a gesture to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat representing New York. Bharara had been Schumer’s chief counsel before he was appointed US attorney.
Bharara released a statement Saturday, first via Twitter and then in an official capacity, clarifying that he had not resigned but was fired.
“Serving my country as U.S. Attorney here for the past seven years will forever be the greatest honor of my professional life, no matter what else I do or how long I live,” Bharara said. “One hallmark of justice is absolute independence, and that was my touchstone every day that I served.”