Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, has been fired by the Trump administration after refusing an order to resign. Bharara was one of the 46 Obama-appointed federal prosecutors who were told to submit their resignations on Friday, March 10th by the Justice Department, and he confirmed that he both refused to resign, and was then fired, in a tweet on Saturday, March 11th.
Bharara was appointed by Obama in 2009, and has earned the reputation of a “crusader” prosecutor. The 48-year-old Bharara has made a national and international mark for himself with many high-profile cases and investigations including foreign countries, insider trading and those involving US politicians.
The Trump administration had sought the resignations of 46 attorneys, who were appointed by former President Barack Obama. Defending the move, a White House statement said that both the George W Bush and Bill Clinton administrations made similar requests at the beginning of their term. In all there are 93 US attorneys. Many of them have already left their positions, but 46 attorneys who stayed on in the first weeks of the Trump administration have been asked by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign “in order to ensure a uniform transition,” Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said on Friday.
The crusading prosecutor – dubbed the “sheriff of Wall Street” – was the only Indian American U.S. attorney in the nation. Acting deputy Attorney General Dana Boente had called US Attorney Preet Bharara and told him President Trump was firing him, hours after he announced he would not resign under the guidance of a directive issued a day earlier by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“I did not resign. Moments ago I was fired. Being the U.S. Attorney in SDNY will forever be the greatest honor of my professional life no matter what else I do or how long I live,” Bharara tweeted mid-morning March 11. “One hallmark of justice is absolute independence, and that was my touchstone every day that I served,” he added.
“By the way, now I know what the Moreland Commission must have felt like,” Bharara tweeted a day later, referring to an independent body set up by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to investigate political corruption. The commission was abruptly disbanded a year later.
Bharara’s firing came only two days after reports emerged that his office had been asked by watchdog groups to investigate whether President Donald Trump’s business ties with foreign governments violated the Constitution.
Shortly after Trump was elected last November, Bharara met with him at Trump Towers in New York City. “We had a good meeting. I said I would absolutely consider staying on. I agreed to stay on,” Bharara told reporters after the meeting. Bharara said he had also met earlier with Sessions who had asked him to stick on in his role. “He also asked that I stay on, and so I expect that I will be continuing,” he had told reporters.
The president had uncharacteristically placed a call to Bharara’s office on March 9th, according to a report in The New York Times. Ethics protocols restrict communications between the White House and prosecutors, and Bharara told the newspaper he called the White House back to say the Attorney General’s office had advised him not to speak directly with the president, in keeping with ethics protocols. “The president reached out to Preet Bharara on Thursday to thank him for his service and to wish him good luck,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a White House spokeswoman, said in an email to The Times.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-New York, praised Bharara in a statement March 11. “His relentless drive to root out public corruption, lock up terrorists, take on Wall Street, and stand up for what is right should serve as a model for all U.S. attorneys across the country. He will be sorely missed,” said Schumer. Bharara had worked as Schumer’s chief counsel for four years and the senator had recommended him for the post. Interestingly, after his appointment to the U.S. attorney’s office, Bharara had launched an investigation into one of Schumer’s donors.
During his seven years in the role, Bharara prosecuted several high-profile businessmen involved in insider trading, including former Goldman Sachs director Rajat Gupta, McKinsey senior partner Anil Kumar, and Galleon Group founder Raj Rajaratnam.
Bharara filed charges against Indian diplomat Khobragade in 2014 alleging that she committed visa fraud by lying on her employer contract about under-paying her Indian maid, Sangeeta Richard. Bharara’s office was currently investigating claims into possible fraud in fundraising for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat. He is also investigating whether aides to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, also a Democrat, were involved in bribery and bid-rigging.
Bharara’s office convicted ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate majority leader Dean Skelos of corruption in separate trials last year. Bharara previously served as Assistant United States Attorney in Manhattan for five years, taking on the Mafia, as well as Asian gangs.
Vichal Kumar, president of the South Asian Bar Association of North America, is reported to have stated in a statement, that Bharara’s legacy is one South Asian legal professionals and the greater legal community can only hope to emulate. His dedication to public service throughout his career is exemplified by his devotion to protecting the rights of all communities and not shying away from the toughest challenges. “We are proud of his accomplishments and wish him the best of luck,” Kumar added.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee Dianne Feinstein, said she is surprised to hear that Trump and Sessions have abruptly fired all 46 remaining US attorneys. “At a time when Attorney General Sessions has recused himself from major investigations into the Trump campaign, the independence of federal prosecutors could not be more important. That’s why many of us have called for the appointment of a special prosecutor,” she said, and added, “Under previous administrations, orderly transitions allowed US attorneys to leave gradually as their replacements were chosen. This was done to protect the independence of our prosecutors and avoid disrupting ongoing federal cases.”