U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara Says He Was Fired After Refusing to Quit

The call to Preet Bharara’s office from President Trump’s assistant came on Thursday. Would Mr. Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, please call back?

The following day, Mr. Bharara was one of 46 United States attorneys appointed by President Barack Obama asked to resign — and to immediately clean out their offices. The request took many in his office by surprise because, in a meeting in November, Mr. Bharara was asked by the then-president-elect to stay on.

Mr. Bharara refused to resign. On Saturday, he announced on Twitter that he had been fired.

It was unclear whether the president’s call on Thursday was an effort to explain his change of heart about keeping Mr. Bharara or to discuss another matter. The White House would not comment on Saturday.

However, there are protocols governing a president’s direct contact with federal prosecutors. According to two people with knowledge of the events who were not authorized to discuss delicate conversations publicly, Mr. Bharara notified an adviser to the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, that the president had tried to contact him and that he would not respond because of those protocols. Mr. Bharara then called Mr. Trump’s assistant back to say he could not speak with the president, citing the protocols.

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Mr. Bharara was a highly public prosecutor who relished the spotlight throughout more than seven years in office. He pursued several high-profile cases involving Wall Street, and he was in the midst of investigating fund-raising by Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York, and preparing to try former top aides to the governor of New York, Andrew M. Cuomo, who are both Democrats. It was not immediately clear how his departure would affect those cases and others that were pending.

Mr. Bharara stayed quiet until Saturday afternoon. Then, on his personal Twitter account, which he set up eight days ago, he wrote: “I did not resign. Moments ago I was fired.” Referring to the Southern District of New York, he continued, “Being the US Attorney in SDNY will forever be the greatest honor of my professional life.”

Peter Carr, a Justice Department spokesman, declined to characterize Mr. Bharara’s departure that way, saying only, “I can confirm that Mr. Bharara is no longer the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.”

All presidents choose their own appointees for United States attorney positions and almost always ask those from their predecessors to leave. But the process under Mr. Trump was unusually abrupt, and it was yet another rocky encounter between the Trump administration and the nation’s law enforcement apparatus.

Mr. Bharara’s job had appeared to be secure. In November, he met at Trump Tower with the president-elect and several of his advisers, including Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, according to two people briefed on that discussion who requested anonymity.

At the meeting, according to those briefed, Mr. Trump asked Mr. Bharara to remain in the job, which Mr. Bharara relayed to reporters and television cameras in the Trump Tower lobby.

Then came the order to resign on Friday, creating what was described as a feeling of whiplash in the prosecutor’s Manhattan office. One person familiar with the views of current prosecutors described an oddly subdued reaction mixed with anxiety as the events unfolded. “You have a sense of how it’s going to end, and it’s not going to end well,” the person said.

But Mr. Bharara, unlike his fellow United States attorneys, publicly refused to leave. He gave no statement citing a policy or legal issue affecting his decision to refuse the resignation order.

It was unclear how many of the 46 holdovers had submitted resignations. Mr. Bharara’s colleague Robert L. Capers, the United States attorney in Brooklyn, announced his resignation Friday.

Two White House officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid offending the president, said the promise to keep Mr. Bharara on was a product of a chaotic transition process and Mr. Trump’s desire at the time to try to work with Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, with whom Mr. Bharara is close. The relationship between Mr. Trump and Mr. Schumer, the Senate minority leader, has since soured.

It was Dana Boente, the acting deputy attorney general, who called Mr. Bharara on Saturday. According to a Justice Department official, Mr. Boente told Mr. Bharara that he was one of the 46 United States attorneys being told to resign.

Mr. Bharara, the official said, replied that that was in conflict with Mr. Trump asking him to stay on. Mr. Boente reiterated that Mr. Bharara was being asked to resign, and Mr. Bharara said that he was interpreting that as being fired. Mr. Boente then said again that the department was asking him to step down, according to the official.

Mr. Bharara’s office is overseeing the case against the former aides to Mr. Cuomo and the inquiry into fund-raising by Mr. de Blasio, who has been a target of Mr. Trump’s ire as he has positioned himself as a vocal opponent of the president’s on the left.

His office is also overseeing an investigation into whether Fox News, which is owned by the media magnate Rupert Murdoch, failed to properly alert shareholders of settlements with female employees who had accused the channel’s former chief, Roger Ailes, of sexual harassment.

The investigation of Mr. de Blasio’s campaign fund-raising has been going on for about a year and is examining whether the mayor or his aides traded beneficial city action for political donations. Mr. de Blasio was interviewed recently by prosecutors who appeared to be in the final stages of determining whether to seek charges in the matter. Mr. de Blasio’s press secretary has said that the mayor has cooperated with Mr. Bharara’s inquiry and that he and his staff had “acted appropriately and well within the law.”

White House officials have said little about the timing of the mass push for resignations, other than insisting it had not been a response to a call for a purge on Fox News, where one host, Sean Hannity, urged the president to clean house at the Justice Department.

Phil Singer, a former aide to Mr. Schumer and a Democratic strategist, called it “absurd” to suggest that Mr. Bharara’s firing had been meant to punish Mr. Schumer. He noted that any investigation involving Trump Tower would fall within the purview of Mr. Bharara’s office.

The Southern District of New York, which Mr. Bharara has overseen since 2009, encompasses Manhattan, Mr. Trump’s home before he was elected president, as well as the Bronx, Westchester County and other counties north of New York City.

The Thursday afternoon phone call from the Oval Office was a curious sidelight to the fast-moving events. Mr. Trump’s assistant asked the prosecutor to return the call. Before doing so, Mr. Bharara called Mr. Sessions’s chief of staff, Jody Hunt, to alert the Justice Department to the call and express concern about contacts between presidents and federal prosecutors.

Aides to Mr. Trump did not respond to three emails seeking comment about the nature of Mr. Trump’s call to Mr. Bharara.

Preet Bharara last year. On Friday, Mr. Bharara was asked to step down along with 45 other United States attorneys. Credit Bryan R. Smith for The New York Times


Justice Department Fires U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, one of 46 federal prosecutors asked to resign Friday, refused to step down, and was fired.

"I did not resign," Bharara tweeted. "I was fired. Being the US Attorney in SDNY will forever be the greatest honor of my professional life."

As the federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, Bharara pursued a number of high-profile cases, including criminal cases against defendants like Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, and won a $1.8 billion settlement against SAC Capital Advisors for insider trading, shutting down the hedge fund.

The Justice Department asked Bharara and 45 other federal prosecutors to resign. Such requests are standard from a new administration, as it seeks to clear out political appointees from the previous president.

NPR's Carrie Johnson reports the Justice Department has confirmed that Bharara was fired.

The department said Bharara is no longer U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York, and that he is being treated like the other U.S. Attorneys. Career attorneys will continue the work of the office.

Bharara had previously told reporters that Trump had asked him to stay on.

On Wednesday, NPR's Jim Zarroli reported that a group of ethics watchdogs sent a letter to Bharara, requesting that he look into Trump's businesses and whether they violate the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Bharara's office declined to comment.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer released a statement praising Bharara.

"Preet Bharara has been an exemplary U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. 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," Schumer's statement said.


New York federal prosecutor Preet Bharara says he was fired by Trump administration

Preet Bharara, one of the most high-profile federal prosecutors in the country, said he was fired Saturday after refusing to submit a letter of resignation as part of an ouster of the remaining U.S. attorneys who were holdovers from the Obama administration, according to people familiar with the matter.

Bharara’s dismissal was an about-face from President Trump’s assurances to the Manhattan-based prosecutor in November, weeks after the election, that he wanted him to stay on the job following a meeting at Trump Tower, according to Bharara.

Two people close to Trump said the president’s chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions wanted a clean slate of federal prosecutors and were unconcerned about any perception that the White House changed its mind about Bharara. The removal of former president Barack Obama’s federal prosecutors is about asserting who’s in power, the two said.

The departure of Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, capped a confusing sequence of events, beginning Friday, when acting deputy attorney general Dana Boente began making calls to 46 prosecutors asking for their resignations by the end of the day. Requests for resignation are a normal part of a transition of power from one administration to another, although both the Bush and Obama administrations let their U.S. attorneys leave gradually.

During Friday’s call with Bharara, the New York prosecutor 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.

On Saturday morning, 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.

When they finally did speak shortly before 2:30 p.m., Boente informed Bharara that the order to submit his resignation indeed applied to him because he was a presidentially appointed U.S. attorney, according to a Justice Department official with knowledge of the conversation.

Bharara asked Boente if he was firing him and Boente replied that he was asking him to submit his resignation, the official said.

Minutes later, Bharara announced on Twitter that he was out. “I did not resign,” Bharara said. “Moments ago I was fired. Being the US Attorney in SDNY will forever be the greatest honor of my professional life.”

Bharara sent an email to his staff, asserting again that Boente had removed him from his job.

“Needless to say it is personally very sad for me,” the note said. “This is the greatest place on Earth and I love you all. Even on a day when your U.S. Attorney gets fired it is still Thanksgiving because you all still get to do the most honorable work there is to do.”

Bharara added that the office “could not be in better hands” than with the deputy U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Joon H. Kim, whom he called “a tremendous leader and public servant and who loves the office just as much as I do.”

Within the Justice Department, some are questioning whether a recent phone call from Trump to Bharara may have contributed to the decision to remove the Obama holdovers, according to a person familiar with the matter.

On Thursday, a White House aide called and left a message for Bharara, saying the president wanted to speak with him, though the prospective topic of discussion was unclear. Bharara consulted his staff and determined that it would probably be a violation of Justice Department protocols for him to speak directly to the president, this person said. That protocol exists in order to prevent political interference — or the appearance of political interference — with Justice Department work.

Bharara then contacted the chief of staff for the attorney general, Jody Hunt, told him of his own determination, and the two agreed that it would be a violation of the Justice Department protocol for Bharara to call the president back. Bharara then called the White House staffer who had left the message and said he wouldn’t be talking to the president, and explained why, this person said.

It’s unclear whether the Trump call and its aftermath had anything to do with Friday’s decision.

Bharara, who was born in India and came to the United States as a child, had a particularly powerful perch in the criminal justice system. The Southern District of New York has 220 assistant U.S. attorneys, making it one of the largest federal prosecutors’ offices in the country.

During his tenure, Bharara indicted 17 prominent New York politicians for malfeasance — 10 of them Democrats. Along with his bipartisan prosecutions, ­Bharara developed a reputation for being tough on insider trading, although he was criticized for the lack of prosecutions that followed the financial crisis.

Bharara was an outspoken man in a job that has been held by vocal and politically aspirant predecessors, including former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and FBI Director James B. Comey.

There is no indication that the ouster of Bharara stems from a disagreement about a particular case or investigation. While the FBI has been conducting a counterintelligence inquiry looking for evidence of contacts between agents of the Russian government and Trump campaign advisers, and a former campaign adviser to Trump has been part of an investigation into possible overseas corruption, there have been no signs that Bharara’s office has been involved in either of those probes or any other inquiries that might touch on the president or people close to him.

On Wednesday, watchdog groups asked Bharara to probe whether Trump has received payments or other benefits from foreign governments through his business interests in violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which prohibits top officials from receiving favors or payments from foreign governments.

The president complained on Twitter earlier this month that Obama had ordered wiretapping of Trump Tower during the election season — an accusation that multiple federal law enforcement officials have said is untrue — partly because presidents cannot order the FBI to wiretap Americans, and also because no such surveillance was undertaken. But Bharara was not drawn into that debate, which principally revolved around the Justice Department and FBI headquarters.

Initially after Trump won the presidency, it looked as if Bharara’s position was safe. Trump brought up Bharara’s name in November during a phone conversation with Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), whom the president-elect was calling to congratulate on becoming the leader of the Senate Democrats, according to people familiar with the matter. In that conversation, Trump said he was thinking of keeping Bharara in his job, these people said. Schumer praised Bharara and Trump then arranged a meeting with Bharara at Trump Tower.

During the conversation, Trump told Bharara to call ­Sessions, his nominee for attorney general, who also asked Bharara to stay, people familiar with the conversation said.

When Bharara was leaving, according to one person, he asked the president-elect what he should tell the reporters in the lobby. Trump told Bharara to tell them he was staying on, this person said.

Bharara told reporters afterward that the president-elect, “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 him and discuss whether he would remain in his position.

“We had a good meeting,” Bharara said. “I agreed to stay on.”

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