New York Federal Prosecutor Fired After Refusing To Resign
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Questions remain today about why President Donald Trump fired the U.S. attorney in Manhattan Preet Bharara. Bharara was one of 46 U.S. attorneys held over from the Obama administration who were ordered by the Justice Department to resign on Friday. Bharara had been expected to remain on the job. He'd met with Trump and his top advisers last November and afterwards indicated he would be staying.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Ben Weiser has been following all of this for The New York Times and joins us now. Welcome to the program.
BEN WEISER: Hi, Robert. Thank you.
SIEGEL: There are a lot of Democrats, liberals and people who mistrust Donald Trump I guess who think something very fishy has just happened here. How out of the ordinary is it for the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York to be asked to resign and, when he refuses, to be fired?
WEISER: Well, it is out of the ordinary. In fact I'm not sure it's happened before. It's not uncommon of course for presidents to accept the resignations of all the U.S. attorneys who have served under the previous administration or to seek those or even dismiss them. What's unusual here I think is that Donald Trump personally asked Preet Bharara to stay on, and just months later, he fires him and gave no reason.
SIEGEL: Well, did anyone on the other side of those conversations - that is, between Bharara and Trump back in November - did anyone on the Trump side describe what was said in those - in that conversation?
WEISER: That's a good question. I don't believe now President Trump ever addressed it himself. But the meeting was also attended by some of Trump's top aides like Bannon. And there was no dispute when Preet Bharara came down and addressed the reporters assembled in the lobby and said, I was asked to stay on, and I'm staying on. And of course he did stay on.
At the time, it was seen as a pretty interesting and very smart move by the president-elect. Preet Bharara, as you know, has been a U.S. attorney in Manhattan longer than anyone else over the last a hundred years that - except for two others. He's the third-longest serving U.S. attorney in Manhattan. He has gone after public corruption cases like a tiger, and he has gone after them no matter who the target is. He has prosecuted and won convictions of Democrats as much as Republicans.
And it seemed in some ways that he attacked the establishment and might have been attractive to Trump because he was someone who was not afraid to go after the establishment. Whatever it was that made Donald Trump ask him to stay, obviously something did change. There's been speculation that it has to do with Trump's soured relationship with Chuck Schumer. Preet Bharara had worked for Schumer for a number of years as his chief counsel.
SIEGEL: Schumer now the leader of the Senate Democrats. Is there any indication that any case that Bharara was pursuing might have figured in the decision to ask him to resign and then to fire him?
WEISER: There's been speculation, but there's no specific indication of that. And you know, it's not entirely clear that that would make a lot of sense. The office is full of career prosecutors who if there was any messing around, you know, it would not surprise me that they would object or resign under protest. It would be very hard to have that happen.
There are also pending trials, and there are pending investigations. And a couple of them are very well known. The mayor of New York, Mayor de Blasio, has been under investigation for his campaign financing techniques and some of his associates. The mayor, by the way, has denied any wrongdoing and has been cooperating with the investigation.
And a number of former senior aides and associates of Governor Andrew Cuomo have been charged and are pending trial later this year. And there are other important investigations the office has going, but it's unclear at this point whether any of those cases is the reason for this.
SIEGEL: Of the dozens of districts that have U.S. attorneys in them, how significant is the Southern District of New York?
WEISER: The Southern District has long been seen as perhaps the most prominent or one of the most prominent federal U.S. attorneys' districts in the country and in large part because of the kinds of cases they prosecuted, starting with Wall Street. Preet Bharara made insider trading one of his signature efforts. There's also been a large number for two decades of big-time terrorism trials, including one that's coming up later this year with a man who's been accused of setting off a bomb in New York, wounding about 30 people last year.
SIEGEL: That's Ben Weiser, who covers the Manhattan federal courts for The New York Times. Thanks.
WEISER: Thank you very much.
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