Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s refusal to step down after a call for his resignation set up a public battle with President Donald Trump, who abruptly fired Wall Street’s top enforcer on Saturday, months after asking him to remain in the post.
“I did not resign,” Bharara tweeted Saturday. “Moments ago I was fired. Being the US Attorney in SDNY will forever be the greatest honor of my professional life.”
Bharara’s firing came a day after Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked for the resignations of 46 U.S. attorneys who were appointed by President Barack Obama.
In November, Bharara said shortly after meeting with Sessions and Trump that he was asked to stay on in the new administration and had agreed to do so. The move raises questions about whether the relationship changed, and is likely to call attention to the cases that Bharara’s office is handling.
What role, if any, Bharara’s team is playing in the multiple investigations of Russian influence in the 2016 presidential campaign, Russian contacts by Trump aides, and Michael Flynn’s actions leading up to and while serving as national security adviser is unclear. Many of the principals were working in or based in New York.
Deutsche Bank Probe
Bharara’s office also was investigating a bank that Trump often had worked with, Deutsche Bank AG, over allegations that it helped Russians get money out of the country.
A representative for Bharara declined to comment on his refusal to resign and his firing. A representative for the Justice Department declined to comment on Bharara’s refusal to resign and didn’t reply to a request for comment on his firing.
Sessions’s request for resignations on Friday didn’t specify exit dates. The U.S. attorneys in Brooklyn, Robert Capers, and in New Jersey, Paul Fishman, said in separate statements that they’d been told to resign effective Friday.
The Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York, said the attorney general’s move to purge U.S. prosecutors would interrupt investigations and hinder the department’s work.
“While it’s true that presidents from both parties made their own choices for U.S. attorney positions across the country, they have always done so in an orderly fashion that doesn’t put ongoing investigations at risk,” he said in a statement.
Trump declined to accept the resignations of Dana Boente, a U.S. prosecutor in Virginia who’s currently acting deputy attorney general, and Rod Rosenstein of Maryland, Trump’s pick to become deputy attorney general, Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said in an email.
Bharara’s departure may mean some of the most prominent and difficult Justice Department investigations are disrupted. They include inquiries into Deutsche Bank’s handling of “mirror trades” that helped Russian clients convert rubles into Western currency, a high-profile securities fraud case against Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc., and political corruption cases involving New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and aides to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Last year, charges from Bharara’s office led to the arrest of Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian gold dealer accused of moving money for Iran through his network of companies to circumvent sanctions controls. The arrest of Zarrab, considered an ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, roiled relations between Turkey and the U.S. Zarrab has pleaded not guilty and is fighting the charges. His trial is scheduled for October.
Bharara, 49, who’s held his post since August 2009, had been praised by Republicans and Democrats for aggressively prosecuting corruption in the state capital of Albany. One of the reasons he initially may have been asked to stay was because of his pursuit of several political corruption cases of Democratic state officials.
While incoming presidents, most notably Bill Clinton, have replaced U.S. attorneys before, the new purge comes in a politically charged atmosphere as Democrats call for a special counsel to look into the Trump camp’s relationships with Russia during the presidential campaign.