INDIA ABROAD April 14, 2017 19 U.S. AFFAIRS
By Benjamin Weiser
and William Rashbaum
— NEW YORK
early a month after he
was fired by the
tion, Preet Bharara,
States attorney in Manhattan,
remains mystified by the cir-
cumstances of his ouster, saying
he had never been told why
President Trump changed his
mind about wanting him to stay
In his first interview since he
was forced out, Mr. Bharara said
this week that his firing was part
and parcel of what he characterized as the chaos that has
defined some of the administration’s decisions.
He called it “a direct example
of the kind of uncertain helter-
skelter incompetence, when it
comes to personnel decisions
and executive actions, that was
in people’s minds when this out-
of-the-blue call for everyone’s
resignation letter came.”
Mr. Bharara also disclosed
that Mr. Trump, after having
asked him to remain in his post,
telephoned him three times,
raising concern among Mr.
Bharara and his aides that such
calls could run afoul of strict
Justice Department protocols
governing communications with
the White House.
Mr. Bharara, an appointee of
President Barack Obama, was
among 46 United States attorneys who were asked on March
10 to submit their resignations.
The directive was not especially
unusual; all presidents choose
their own candidates for United
States attorney positions, and
invariably ask holdover prosecu-
tors to leave.
But Mr. Bharara’s inclusion in
the request came as a surprise,
since he had been asked on Nov.
30 by Mr. Trump, the president-elect at the time, to remain in his
Speculating about the reasons
for Mr. Bharara’s firing became a
kind of parlor game for a time in
some legal circles, with questions about whether the president may have been trying to
block investigations focused on
his friends and associates. Those
inquiries include one into the
way Fox News handled payments related to sexual harassment accusations under Roger
Ailes, its former chairman, and
another focused on stock trades
by Tom Price, Mr. Trump’s secretary of health and human services.
A Justice Department
spokesman declined to comment
on why Mr. Bharara was among
those dismissed despite Mr.
Trump’s earlier request that he
In his seven years as the
United States attorney for the
Southern District of New York,
Mr. Bharara established a reputation for prosecuting public corruption cases and for investigating insider trading.
He declined to discuss the
office’s current investigations,
When a top Justice Department
official called him on March 10
to ask for his resignation, Mr.
Bharara said he thought it was a
He said it took nearly 24
hours before Justice Department
officials could finally tell him
whether the president actually
wanted him fired.
“Literally, no one was giving
us an answer to that question,”
Mr. Bharara said.
Mr. Bharara spoke to The New
York Times on Monday, his first
day as a distinguished scholar in
residence at New York
University School of Law. On
Thursday night, he is to deliver a
lecture at The Cooper Union in
He said he was uncertain
about his plans, but reiterated
that he had no interest in seek-
ing public office. He has had
some time to contemplate life
after being a prosecutor; in the
interview, he said he initially
expected that, like all United
States attorneys, he would be
asked to resign once Mr. Trump
took office, a request that he
said would have been “perfectly
His expectations began to
change on Nov. 16, when he said
he received a call from Senator
Chuck Schumer, Democrat of
New York, for whom he had
once worked as chief counsel
and who had recommended him
to Mr. Obama for the United
States attorney post.
Mr. Schumer told Mr. Bharara
he had gotten a call from Mr.
Trump during which the president-elect said he wanted Mr.
Bharara to stay on. That led to a
meeting on Nov. 30, on the 26th
floor at Trump Tower. Jared
Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, and Stephen K. Bannon, his
chief strategist, were waiting,
Mr. Bharara said.
When Mr. Trump entered the
room 10 to 15 minutes later, Mr.
Bharara recalled, he quipped,
“This guy gets better press than
me.” Mr. Trump said he had read
for years about the office’s work
under Mr. Bharara, and praised
Mr. Bharara said he spoke
briefly about his office, emphasizing that it prized its independence, and that he presumed that
was why Mr. Trump wanted him
to stay. He would be honored, he
said he told Mr. Trump, to continue in the job.
At the meeting, Mr. Bharara
said, Mr. Trump asked for his
phone numbers, a request that
Mr. Bharara found unusual. He
nonetheless scribbled them
down on a yellow sticky note,
which he left on Mr. Trump’s
As the meeting ended, Mr.
Bharara said that Mr. Trump told
him to tell reporters in the lobby
about the decision.
Mr. Bharara said he had gone
over what he planned to say in
the lobby with Mr. Kushner and
Mr. Bannon, and that both had
given their assent. Mr. Bharara
said Mr. Bannon had also asked
that he call Jeff Sessions, at the
time a Republican senator from
Alabama whom Mr. Trump had
picked as his nominee for attorney general.
Standing at the elevator bank
before going downstairs, Mr.
Bharara said he had called Mr.
Sessions and had an “equally
positive and enthusiastic” conversation.
Soon, Mr. Bharara was downstairs addressing reporters,
telling them that Mr. Trump had
asked him to stay on and that he
had agreed to do so.
About two weeks later, Mr.
Bharara said he received a mes-
sage that Mr. Trump had called.
Mr. Bharara said he consulted
with senior aides, including his
deputy, Joon H. Kim, and that
they had concluded there was no
ethical problem with returning
the call because Mr. Trump was
not yet president. “The consensus was that I can return the
call,” he said, “and just to be certain that we don’t talk about any
During the brief conversation,
Mr. Trump raised no problematic
topics and said he was just
“checking in,” Mr. Bharara
recalled. The president-elect
asked if he had spoken with Mr.
Sessions, and Mr. Bharara said
he had. Mr. Trump seemed
Afterward, Mr. Bharara said
he called Brian Benczkowski,
who led the Justice Department
transition team, to inform him of
On Jan. 18, two days before
Mr. Trump’s inauguration, Mr.
Bharara learned that he had
called again. Mr. Bharara said he
spoke to his senior aides and
later advised Mr. Benczkowski.
This conversation was also
brief and innocuous, Mr. Bharara
said, adding that Mr. Trump
mentioned that he was working
on his inaugural address and
that his theme would be unity.
The timing of a third call, on
March 9, might suggest that Mr.
Trump was reaching out to Mr.
Bharara before the request for
the mass resignations became
public. But the actual purpose of
the call was unclear; Mr. Bharara
did not return it.
He said he had consulted with
Preet Bharara links
firing to Trump
no one was
giving us an
answer to that