Yesterday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked 46 U.S. attorneys to resign, citing the need for a “uniform transition.” There is nothing unusual about this. U.S. attorneys are expected to resign whenever a new president takes over. Indeed, half the 93 federal prosecutors around the country had already handed in their resignation letters.
But Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, refused the order to resign, daring the president to fire him.
Today, the president did just that.
Preet Bharara, one of the most high-profile federal prosecutors in the country, was fired Saturday after refusing to submit a letter of resignation as part of an ouster of the remaining U.S. attorneys who were holdovers from the Obama administration, according to people familiar with the matter.
“I did not resign,” Bharara said on Twitter. “Moments ago I was fired. Being the US Attorney in SDNY will forever be the greatest honor of my professional life.”
On Friday, acting deputy attorney general Dana Boente began making calls to 46 prosecutors asking for their resignations. Such requests are a normal part of a transition of power from one administration to another, and about half of the 94 Obama-era U.S. attorneys had already left their jobs.
But Boente’s call to Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, appears to have left some confusion in its wake, in large part because President Trump met with Bharara soon after the election and had asked him to stay on.
During Friday’s call, Bharara asked for clarity about whether the requests for resignations applied to him, given his previous conversation with Trump, and did not immediately get a definitive answer, according to a person familiar with the exchange.
When asked Friday whether Bharara was also being asked for a resignation letter, one White House official not authorized to speak publicly said, “Everybody’s gone,” and would not engage further on the issue. Two people close to the president said the president’s chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon and Attorney General Jeff Sessions want a clean slate of federal prosecutors and are unconcerned about any perception that the White House appears to have changed its mind about Bharara. The ouster of former president Barack Obama’s federal prosecutors is about asserting who’s in power, these people said.
Bharara is a fool. Odds are, Trump would have kept him on—as he will keep on several other U.S. attorneys who are in the middle of important cases.
But Bharara has bigger fish to fry. He’s been prominently mentioned in Democratic circles as a potential candidate to run for either mayor of New York against Bill de Blasio or governor against Andrew Cuomo.
Word that crusading Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara was forced by the Trump administration to tender his resignation with 45 other federal prosecutors immediately ramped up the rumor mill in New York’s political circles.
Bharara has long been speculated about as a potential future candidate for something. Mayor? Governor?
It just so happens that his office — or old office if he really is not being brought back — has an ongoing investigation into the de Blasio administration and the mayor’s fundraising operation.
He also has an open pay-to-play and bid-rigging case involving associates of Gov. Cuomo, including former top aide and close friend Joseph Percoco.
De Blasio is up for reelection in November. Cuomo in 2018.
Bharara has long denied an interest in running for public office, but few in New York’s political circles actually believe that.
There’s numerous examples of U.S. attorneys who went on to successful political careers.
One of Bharara’s predecessors in the U.S. attorney’s office is Rudy Giuliani, who served two terms as New York City mayor.
Chris Christie parlayed his position as a U.S. attorney into the New Jersey governorship.
On the state level, Eliot Spitzer and Cuomo each used the state attorney general’s office to springboard into the governor’s mansion.
No doubt Bharara would make a formidable challenger to anyone he ran against. He has the record and, for the most part, an adoring media. But does he have a political base and a way to raise money?
Bharara has low name recognition at this point, but what better way to raise your profile among New York Democrats than to defy the hated Trump.
It would still be a long-shot candidacy. But with major New York media outlets giving him adoring coverage and with a record of fighting the rich, who’s to say that Bharara won’t win over New York Democrats for whatever office he might run for?