U.S. at­tor­ney in NYC is fired

PROSE­CU­TOR IS AMONG 46 ASKED TO RE­SIGN In Nov., Bharara said Trump wanted him to stay in post

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY DEVLIN BAR­RETT, SARI HORWITZ AND ROBERT COSTA

Preet Bharara, one of the most high­pro­file 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.

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 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 conat­tor­ney trib­uted 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 de­terof mined 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.”

Dur­ing his ten­ure as a U.S. at­tor­ney, Preet Bharara in­dicted 17 prom­i­nent politi­cians for malfea­sance.

Matt Zapo­to­sky, Ros­alind S. Hel­der­man, Cleve R. Woot­son Jr., Amy B Wang and Ellen Nakashima con­trib­uted to this re­port.

BREN­DAN MCDERMID/REUTERS

Preet Bharara, the fired U.S. at­tor­ney for the South­ern District of New York, met in Novem­ber with Don­ald Trump and said that the pres­i­dent-elect as­sured him that he would re­main on the job.

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