President Donald Trump has now fired three people who were investigating him or his associates since taking office in January: FBI Director James Comey, former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, and former US Attorney Preet Bharara.
All three officials were pursuing separate but related inquiries into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, and whether the Trump campaign had anything to do with it.
Trump fired Comey unexpectedly, one day after Yates — who was fired by Trump in January after refusing to enforce his first immigration order — testified before Congress that she had warned the White House about former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s contact with Russia’s ambassador to the US during the transition.
Yates’ testimony came days after Comey reiterated during an open Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that the FBI was still “conducting an investigation to understand whether there was any coordination between the Russian efforts and anybody associated with the Trump campaign.”
In early March, Trump asked for Bharara’s resignation along with those of 45 other US attorneys who had been appointed by President Barack Obama. While it is standard practice for a new administration to ask all US attorneys held over from the previous administration to resign, Bharara, who was appointed by Obama in 2009, had been assured by Trump after he won the election that he would be allowed to stay on as US attorney.
While Bharara was not explicitly involved in examining Russia’s election interference, he had been investigating corrupt Russian businessmen accused of laundering money in New York real estate. He also would have been tasked with investigating Trump’s claim that Obama had Trump Tower phones “wiretapped” during the election, since the building falls within the Southern District of New York.
Additionally, Bharara, who was known as the “Sheriff of Wall Street,” had been examining financial investments made by Trump’s Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.
Bharara told The New York Times shortly after he was fired that his ouster was a “direct example of the kind of uncertain Helter-skelter incompetence” that characterises the Trump administration’s personnel decisions.
Similar concerns have been raised about how Sally Yates’ and James Comey’s dismissals will affect the credibility of the FBI’s Russia investigation, which is overseen by the Department of Justice.
“EVERYONE who cares about independence & rule of law in America should be ‘troubled by the timing and reasoning’ of Comey firing,” Bharara tweeted on Tuesday night, echoing Republican Sen. Richard Burr’s statement that he was “troubled” by Comey’s dismissal.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from any involvement in the probe in February, after news broke that he had spoken with Russia’s ambassador twice in 2016 and failed to disclose those conversations during his Senate confirmation hearings.
Even so, Comey’s dismissal has fuelled calls from both Democrats and Republicans to the DOJ to appoint a special counsel to oversee the bureau’s Russia probe. It is unclear where Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has expressed scepticism in the past of appointing an independent prosecutor, will take the investigation from here.
More from Natasha Bertrand:
- ‘He’s a free man as of today’: A member of the Senate Intel Committee wants Comey to lead the Russia probe
- White House spokeswoman: ‘It’s time to move on’ from Trump-Russia investigation
- The Trump-Russia probes are not going away — here are 6 things to watch as they move forward
- Trump’s firing of Comey seems ‘suicidal’ — but could ‘energize’ the Russia investigation
- Sean Spicer calls Sally Yates a ‘political opponent’ in explaining why Trump ignored her advice
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