Now-fired Preet Bharara boasts of ‘absolute independence’
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 request a day earlier to resign.
Preet Bharara, 48, made the announcement 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 hours later, he said: “Serving my country as U.S. Attorney here for the past seven years will forever be the greatest honor 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 Joon H. Kim will serve as acting U.S. attorney in his absence.
The Justice Department late Saturday confirmed Bharara was no longer U.S. attorney but declined to expound. Spokeswoman Nicole Navas declined comment.
Just over three months ago, then-President-elect Donald Trump asked Bharara to remain as U.S. attorney in Manhattan and Bharara told reporters after the Trump Tower meeting that he had agreed to do so.
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 Manhattan’s top federal prosecutor.
After Bharara met Trump on Nov. 30, he emerged from the meeting to say Trump had asked him to remain in the job he has held since his appointment in the summer of 2009 and he had agreed.
Schumer said that by requesting immediate resignations, Trump was “interrupting ongoing cases and investigations and hindering the administration of justice.”
Bharara, who was 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 the past few years set his sights on prosecuting over a dozen state officeholders — Democrats and Republicans — including New York’s two most powerful lawmakers.
It also recently was revealed that Bharara’s 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 cooperating and that he and his staff had acted appropriately.
The request for resignations came just days after Trump last weekend claimed that 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.
Last week, the quick-witted Bharara initiated a new personal Twitter feed with one of his first tweets perhaps intentionally delivering multiple messages.
In it, he linked to 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.”
Associated Press writers Sadie Gurman in Washington and Jennifer Peltz in New York contributed to this report.