U.S. Attorney Stands Up To Trump And Is Promptly Fired (TWEETS)
When a new president takes office, he usually dismisses the U.S. attorneys working for the Justice Department and installs his own — in an orderly fashion that leaves current investigations and prosecutions intact. Donald Trump took a machete to the process, asking 46 U.S. prosecutors to resign immediately on Friday afternoon. One attorney refused.
Preet Bharara, one of the most powerful prosecutors in the country, declined to submit a letter of resignation. In November, Bharara met with the president-elect and was reportedly asked to stay on by both Trump and his then-nominee for Attorney General, Sen. Jeff Sessions. On Saturday morning, he was fired.
As U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York (SCNY), Bharara’s power was exceeded only by that of his boss, the Attorney General. According to The Guardian, the Manhattan office has a number of high-profile investigations underway, including cases involving corruption in politics and on Wall Street, investigations into associates of NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), NY Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), and into Fox News’ settlement of sexual harassment claims.
Interestingly, NPR reported on Wednesday that a number of ethics watchdogs sent Bharara a letter asking him to investigate whether Trump’s business interests violate the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The letter read:
A failure by your office to investigate these reports and to take appropriate action will leave the nation exposed to foreign governments directly and indirectly providing payments and financial benefits to President Trump when those foreign governments may be seeking to influence Executive Branch policies and positions. This is precisely the kind of problem that the Founding Fathers acted to prevent by including the Foreign Emoluments Clause in the Constitution.
While it is true that 45 other U.S. attorneys were also asked to resign on Friday, it is unusual for an administration to ask one to stay on and then pull such a prompt reversal. It’s also unusual for a U.S. attorney to refuse a request to resign. Bharara showed every instinct to fight back by immediately tweeting the reality of what was going on:
I did not resign. Moments ago I was fired. Being the US Attorney in SDNY will forever be the greatest honor of my professional life.
— Preet Bharara (@PreetBharara) March 11, 2017
If nothing else, the prosecutor is showing his chops, using Trump’s preferred weapon against him. The attorney has enjoyed bipartisan support and some were quick to defend Bharara. NY Assemblyman Steven F. McLaughlin (R) urged Trump and Sessions to reconsider, tweeting his opinion about their decision:
Definitely not a wise move at all if @USAttyBharara was asked to resign. This should immediately be reconsidered by AG Sessions. Big mistake
— Steve McLaughlin (@SteveMcNY) March 10, 2017
The state GOP leader, NY Assemblyman Brian Kolb, also tweeted a response when he heard that Bharara refused to resign:
Good for Preet, he is doing the job he was appointed to do! https://t.co/4WqOgRfZht
— Brian Kolb (@GOPLdrBrianKolb) March 11, 2017
It sure seems like the state GOP thinks Bharara has done a heck of a job!
According to the Washington Post, it’s Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon — the puppet master behind the ‘throne’ — who wanted Bharara and the other prosecutors gone. Observers have to wonder: how many shots can the Bannon/Trump team fire across their ‘enemies’ bow before they trigger a massive backlash?