“I did not resign. Moments ago I was fired”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked all remaining Obama-appointed U. S. Attorneys to resign. This is standard procedure when a new president enters the White House, and despite some hand-wringing from the left, is rather unremarkable. What is raising some questions is Preet Bharara, U. S. Attorney for the southern district of New York, who met with President Trump and subsequently announced he would remain in place, has been fired in the wake of his refusal to resign as requested.
In March 1993, Janet Reno began her tenure as President Bill Clinton’s attorney general by summarily firing United States attorneys for 93 of the 94 federal districts (one, Michael Chertoff, was retained in New Jersey, at the request of Democratic Senator Bill Bradley). That is more than twice as many as Trump attorney general Jeff Sessions fired on Friday.
Indeed, there were only 46 Obama-appointed U.S. attorneys left for Sessions to relieve because Obama appointees fully understood that this is the way things work. Many of them had already moved on, in the expectation that the president elected in November would replace them — an expectation that became a virtual certainty once it was clear that this change of administrations would be a change of parties, and visions.
After Trump won the election, he met with Bharara and later said that he would keep Bharara on in that role.
In November, the Wall Street Journal reported:
Preet Bharara, the Manhattan U.S. attorney, has agreed to stay in his current role under the Trump administration, a surprise move that could signal the president-elect is serious about cracking down on Wall Street wrongdoing.
Mr. Bharara, famous for his aggressive prosecutions of insider trading and corruption in New York, met with President-elect Donald Trump in Trump Tower on Wednesday. Afterward, Mr. Bharara told reporters that Mr. Trump asked whether he was prepared to remain as U.S. attorney, and Mr. Bharara said he was.
“We had a good meeting,” Mr. Bharara said. “I agreed to stay on.”
At that time, the move to keep Bharara was interpreted as “‘a powerful message to Wall Street that this is not open season for Wall Street folks to run around and do whatever they want,’ said Greg Morvillo, a partner at Morvillo LLP.”
New York magazine reported in 2011 that Bharara had a reputation of being particularly aggressive towards Wall Street.
Working in the tradition of the last sheriff of Wall Street, Eliot Spitzer, and out of the same Southern District office where Rudy Giuliani went after Milken and Boesky, Bharara has made a name for himself as the crusader of the moment against white-collar crime. In less than two years on the job, the 42-year-old India-born Bharara has charged 46 defendants with insider-trading offenses and procured 30 guilty pleas. The Galleon case is the crown jewel of his work to date. And yet …
To collect those scalps, Bharara has, some say, played rough. He doesn’t grandstand or steamroll the way Giuliani or Spitzer did—in fact, he maintains an assiduously, perhaps even cannily, low profile—but he’s by no means shy about pursuing his marks. To build his cases, he’s used unusually aggressive investigative methods for white-collar crimes, like wiretaps and search warrants.
“It’s not that wiretaps hadn’t been used before, but never in this broad a sweep,” says one prominent white-collar defense lawyer and former Southern District attorney. “A lot of these highfliers never would have imagined that someone would be listening in on their calls. He’s got everyone scared.” Where Giuliani hauled bankers from the trading floors and Spitzer browbeat companies into settlements, Bharara has treated the public to the spectacle of Fortune 500 executives turned like mob stool pigeons, a Goldman director calling Rajaratnam seconds after sitting in on a confidential phone call with Blankfein, and one hedge-fund executive allegedly trying to chew to bits the SIM. card of his prepaid cell phone.
The resignation request included Bharara, who immediately pushed back saying that he would not resign and that President Trump would have to fire him.
— Jeff Zeleny (@jeffzeleny) March 11, 2017
So Trump did just that.
I did not resign. Moments ago I was fired. Being the US Attorney in SDNY will forever be the greatest honor of my professional life.
— Preet Bharara (@PreetBharara) March 11, 2017
On Friday, acting deputy attorney general Dana Boente began making calls to 46 prosecutors asking for their resignations. Such requests are a normal part of a transition of power from one administration to another, and about half of the 94 Obama-era U.S. attorneys had already left their jobs.
But Boente’s call to Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, appears to have left some confusion in its wake, in large part because President Trump met with Bharara soon after the election and had asked him to stay on.
During Friday’s call, Bharara asked for clarity about whether the requests for resignations applied to him, given his previous conversation with Trump, and did not immediately get a definitive answer, according to a person familiar with the exchange.
When asked Friday whether Bharara was also being asked for a resignation letter, one White House official not authorized to speak publicly said, “Everybody’s gone,” and would not engage further on the issue. Two people close to Trump said the president’s chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon and Attorney General Jeff Sessions want a clean slate of federal prosecutors and are unconcerned about any perception that the White House appears to have changed its mind about Bharara. The ouster of former president Barack Obama’s federal prosecutors is about asserting who’s in power, these people said.
Earlier Saturday, when the administration had still not received Bharara’s resignation, Boente attempted to call the U.S. attorney to find out why, but the two men did not immediately connect, according to people familiar with the discussions.
The Justice Department declined to comment.