Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, and one of the most high profile federal prosecutors in the country, says he’s been fired after refusing to resign his post.
In a full statement Saturday, Bharara reiterated that he had been fired.
“One hallmark of justice is absolute independence, and that was my touchstone everyday I served,” he said.
CNN’s Jake Tapper reported that Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente had called Bharara Saturday to dismiss him.
The Department of Justice asked the nation’s 46 federal prosecutors to resign on Friday, something that previous administrations have also done after coming into power. It came as a surprise that Bharara was asked to resign, because he said publicly in November that President Donald Trump had asked him to stay on.
“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 in November. “We had a good meeting. I said I would absolutely consider staying on. I agreed to stay on. I have already spoken to Senator Sessions, who is as you know is the nominee to be the attorney general. He also asked that I stay on, and so I expect that I will be continuing to work at the southern district.”
It is typical for new administrations to wipe the slate clean of U.S. attorneys after entering office, but former President Barack Obama did so on a rolling basis, allowing Bush holdovers to stay on until their successors were confirmed. The Trump administration announced on Friday afternoon that they were asking all remaining 46 presidentially appointed U.S. attorneys to resign struck observers as both blunt and abrupt.
By Friday evening it was becoming less clear if Bharara would hand in his resignation letter. And on Saturday, both The New York Times and CNN reported that he had no intention of doing so. Bharara is charged with overseeing prosecutions against Wall Street and has brought down multiple high profile New York elected officials on corruption charges while in office. He is also conducting an investigation into Fox News. And as New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman noted, a candidate to replace Bharara is Marc Mukasey, a lawyer for former Fox CEO Roger Ailes, who resigned last summer amidst a number of sexual harassment allegations.
Though it is within his power to dismiss Bharara, doing so at this juncture contains political peril for Trump, to the extent that it suggests he’s immunizing himself from potential investigations. The Southern District of New York ― Bharara’s jurisdiction ― includes Trump Tower, the home and office of Trump and the headquarters of his presidential campaign.
But beyond those questions, request for Bharara’s resignation and his potential firing also illustrates the deterioration of Trump’s relationship with the Senate’s top Democrat, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Bharara was once a Schumer aide. And it is no secret that the senator wanted him to remain in his post as U.S. Attorney during the Trump administration. When Trump announced in November that Bharara would, in fact, be kept on, it was not clear if he did so at Schumer’s behest or as a show of good will to the Minority Leader.
A statement from Schumer at the time suggested that the notion originated with Trump. “President-elect Trump called me last week and asked me what I thought about Preet Bharara continuing his role as U.S. Attorney,” the November statement read. “I told him I thought Preet was great, and I would be all for keeping him on the job and fully support it.”
And while CNN reported on Saturday that Trump had agreed to keep Bharara at Schumer’s request, a person familiar with the call said that wasn’t true.
“It was Trump who proposed keeping Preet to Schumer, not the other way around. Trump people are spinning that this is a result of the deteriorating relationship, but this was not a favor Schumer asked of Trump. Trump proposed it, Schumer endorsed and facilitated it,” the person said.
A request for comment to the White House on who initially asked for Bharara to stay on board was not immediately returned, though Schumer’s office put out a statement shortly after the news broke on Friday expressed concern with the decision.
Schumer praised Bharara’s work in a statement released Saturday. “Preet Bharara has been an exemplary U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York,” he said. “His relentless drive to root out public corruption, lock up terrorists, take on Wall Street, and stand up for what is right should serve as a model for all U.S. attorneys across the country. He will be sorely missed.”
This article has been updated with new details, additional comment from Bharara and Schumer.