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Controversy Rises Over Preet Bharara’s Dismissal

And the former U.S. attorney isn't going quietly.

13/03/2017 7:38 AM IST | Updated 13/03/2017 6:46 PM IST

Fired U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara spoke out on Sunday with a cryptic message about his dismissal.

“By the way, now I know what the Moreland Commission must have felt like,” Bharara tweeted, referring to the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, which investigated corruption within New York’s political system in 2013. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) dissolved the independent body in 2014 after passing ethics reforms, but a later investigation by Bharara attempted to bring a criminal case against Cuomo himself. 

Bharara’s career as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York came to an abrupt end this weekend. He revealed on Saturday that the Trump administration fired him, after he refused a resignation order from the Department of Justice.

“I did not resign. Moments ago I was fired,” Bharara tweeted Saturday afternoon. “Being the US Attorney in SDNY will forever be the greatest honor of my professional life.”  

Bharara’s dismissal was part of the Justice Department’s broader request that the nation’s 46 Obama-era federal prosecutors resign, which has been standard practice among previous administrations during the transitional period. However, the abrupt manner in which Bharara was fired has only added to the confusion. 

In November, Trump met privately with Bharara and asked the attorney to continue in his role. In addition, Trump broke protocol by attempting to call Bharara’s office on Thursday ― but the two were not able to connect.

As the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Bharara had the ability to investigate Trump’s conflict of interests. A letter from several watchdog organizations sent to Bharara on Wednesday insisted that the attorney look into whether Trump had violated the Constitution’s emoluments clause.

“The Trump Organization has its main offices in New York City, and resides in the Southern District of New York,” the letter reads. “Thus, your office has jurisdiction and is the appropriate arm of the Justice Department to conduct an investigation and take appropriate action in this matter.”

The abrupt dismissal has some questioning the true motive behind Bharara’s firing, including Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who suggested Sunday that the timing was a bit suspicious. 

“Just not very long ago, the president was saying that he was going to keep the U.S. attorney there in New York. And then, suddenly, he’s, I guess, changed his mind. I’m just curious as to why that is,” Cummings told ABC’s “This Week.” “And certainly, there’s a lot of questions coming up as to whether Mr. Trump is – President Trump is concerned about the jurisdiction of this U.S. attorney and whether that might affect his future.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) also questioned the timing of Bharara’s firing, tweeting that Trump “wants a bunch of tame prosecutors who won’t investigate him.”

Although it is unclear what Bharara meant in his tweet, the White House insists that Bharara’s dismissal was a standard move by the new administration. 

“The U.S. attorneys are political appointees, and all 46 of the holdovers from the Obama administration received the same resignation letter. It’s fair to say that 45 of the 46 behaved in a manner befitting the office,” a White House aide told the Wall Street Journal Sunday. “As much as Preet wants everything to be about Preet, everyone was treated the same way.”

“It was my understanding that the president himself has said anonymous sources are not to be believed,” Bharara told the paper in response.

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