NEW YORK –A Manhattan federal prosecutor who says “absolute independence” was his touchstone for over seven years as he battled public corruption announced he was fired Saturday after he refused a day earlier to resign.
Preet Bharara, 48, revealed his firing on his personal Twitter account after it became widely known hours earlier that he did not intend to step down in response to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ request that leftover appointees of former President Barack Obama quit.
“I did not resign. Moments ago I was fired,” Bharara said in the tweet.
In a statement later, he said: “Serving my country as U.S. Attorney here for the past seven years will forever be the greatest honour of my professional life, no matter what else I do or how long I live. One hallmark of justice is absolute independence, and that was my touchstone every day that I served.”
He said current Deputy U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim will serve as acting U.S. attorney.
The Justice Department late Saturday confirmed Bharara was no longer U.S. attorney but declined to expound.
Just over three months ago, then-President-elect Donald Trump asked Bharara to remain on the job and Bharara told reporters after the Trump Tower meeting that he had agreed to do so.
Meanwhile, Michigan Rep. John Conyers, the House Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, requested Saturday that the committee receive a summary of probes linked to Trump, whether they touch on his administration, transition, campaign and organization, “so that we can understand the full implications of this weekend’s firings.”
He said he suspected Bharara “could be reviewing a range of potential improper activity emanating from Trump Tower and the Trump campaign, as well as entities with financial ties to the president or the Trump organization.”
Bharara was appointed by former President Barack Obama in 2009. In frequent public appearances, Bharara has decried public corruption after successfully prosecuting over a dozen state lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans alike.
Sessions’ decision to include Bharara’s name on the list of 46 resignations of holdovers from the Obama administration surprised Manhattan prosecutors.
While it is customary for a new president to replace virtually all of the 93 U.S. attorneys, it often occurs at a slower pace. Sessions lost his position as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama in a similar sweep by then-Attorney General Janet Reno in 1993.
Robert Morgenthau, a Democratic U.S. attorney in Manhattan, famously held out for nearly a year after Republican President Richard Nixon’s 1969 inauguration, saying he needed to see some important cases through. He ultimately left in January 1970, after the White House declared he was being replaced and announced a nominee.
New York Sen. Charles Schumer, a Democrat, said in a statement Friday that he was “troubled to learn” of the resignation demands, particularly of Bharara, since Trump called him in November and assured him that he wanted Bharara to remain in place.
Bharara met Trump Nov. 30, saying afterward he’d been asked to remain in the job. Bharara, once lauded on the cover of Time magazine as the man who is “busting Wall Street” after successfully prosecuting dozens of insider traders, has in recent years gone after over a dozen state officeholders, – including New York’s two most powerful lawmakers.
It also recently was revealed that his office is investigating the financial terms of settlements of sexual-harassment claims against Fox News by its employees.
The request from Sessions came as Bharara’s office is prosecuting former associates of Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in a bribery case. Also, prosecutors recently interviewed New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as part of a probe into his fundraising. The mayor’s press secretary has said the mayor is co-operating and that he and his staff had acted appropriately
The request for resignations came just days after Trump last weekend claimed Obama tapped his telephones during last year’s election. FBI Director James Comey privately asked the Justice Department to dispute the claim because he believed the allegations were false. Bharara worked for Comey when he was U.S. attorney in Manhattan under President George W. Bush.
Annemarie McAvoy, a former Brooklyn federal prosecutor, said it was not surprising Trump might want Bharara gone since there’s a good chance any subpoena seeking information about Trump campaign links to Russians would go through his office. She said it was also possible Trump wanted “to take out as many people as they can in the prior administration given the leaks and problems that they’re having.”
Last week, the quick-witted Bharara initiated a new personal Twitter feed and sent an ominous message in which he linked an AP video of a Senate hearing focusing on whether federal prosecutors were fired for political reasons.
“This Senate hearing on political interference ?DOJ was 10 yrs ago today,” Bharara wrote. “Is that me in the background? Boy I’ve aged.”