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White House explains controversial, rule-bending attempt by Trump to call rock star prosecutor days before he fired him

Photo by Stephen Lovekin/WireImage for Hill & Knowlton

President Donald Trump reached out to former US Attorney Preet Bharara one day before Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked for Bharara’s resignation, along with 45 other US attorneys who had been appointed by President Obama.

The New York Times reported late Saturday night that an aide to President Trump had called Bharara’s office on Thursday, but that Bharara had not responded because of protocols “governing a president’s direct contact with federal prosecutors.”

Bharara notified Jeff Sessions’ office of the president’s call, and then called Trump’s aide back to let them know he could not respond because of those protocols. One day later, Bharara was asked to resign. He refused, and was fired on Saturday.

“The President reached out to Preet Bharara on Thursday to thank him for his service and to wish him good luck,” a White House official who was not authorised to speak on the record told Business Insider on Sunday.

The DOJ declined to comment.

In his seven years as US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Bharara earned a reputation as the “sheriff of Wall Street” for his high-profile prosecutions of white-collar crime. Trump Tower, and therefore the Trump Organisation, fell within Bharara’s jurisdiction of Manhattan.

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.

Trump had reportedly asked Bharara to stay as a gesture to Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York. Bharara had been Schumer’s chief counsel before he was appointed US attorney.

On Thursday, the day Trump reached out to Bharara, Sessions “held a call with all the US attorneys across the country and wished them ‘happy hunting’ on cases,” Matt Miller, a former Justice Department spokesman and top aide to Attorney General Eric Holder, told Axios on Sunday.

“So what changed between that call on Thursday and them being all told to clean out their desks by the end of the day on Friday?”

Bharara released a statement on Saturday, first via Twitter and then in an official capacity, clarifying that he had not resigned but was fired.

“Serving my country as U.S. Attorney here for the past seven years will forever be the greatest honour of my professional life, no matter what else I do or how long I live,” Bharara said.
“One hallmark of justice is absolute independence, and that was my touchstone every day that I served.”

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