There may have been much more to the termination of US attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, than meets the casual glance.
According to Reuters, which cites a law enforcement source, two days before U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara was fired on Saturday, the high-profile New York prosecutor declined to take a call from President Donald Trump. Bharara reportedly contacted the DOJ for authorization to speak to the president on Thursday - one day before the DOJ announced it had requested all Obama-era attorneys to hand in their resignations. When he apparently did not receive it, Reuters adds that he called back the woman who had contacted him to say "he did not want to talk to Trump without the approval of his superiors."
As reported previously, Bharara - in his role as chief federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York - oversaw several notable corruption and white-collar criminal cases and prosecutions of terrorism suspects. He was one of 46 Obama administration holdovers who were asked to resign by the Justice Department on Friday.
On Saturday afternoon, Bharara tweeted that he had been fired after he defied the request to resign. The move was a surprise because Bharara told reporters in November that Trump had asked him to remain in the job.
As Reuters also notes, the DOJ would not comment on reports of Bharara's contacts with Trump representatives and Attorney General Jeff Sessions' office in the days before his firing. The White House had no comment on Sunday on any contacts with Bharara.
Among some of Bharara recent caseflow, he was most notably overseeing a probe into New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's fundraising. Bharara said his deputy, Joon Kim, would serve as his temporary replacement.
More importantly, in light of recent speculation that Trump terminated Bharara due to an alleged investigation into Trump himself, Reuters' source declined comment on whether or not the office had any active investigations related to Trump. On Wednesday, three watchdog groups asked Bharara to take steps to prevent the Trump Organization from receiving benefits from foreign governments that might enrich Trump, who has not given up ownership of the business.
Norm Eisen, a former White House ethics lawyer who leads one of the groups, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, questioned the timing of the firings. "I do believe that something odd happened," he said. "You don't decide to keep 46 folks on, then suddenly demand their immediate exit, without some precipitating cause or causes."
Democrat Elijah Cummings, ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, said on Sunday it was the president's prerogative to fire U.S. attorneys. But he questioned why Trump had suddenly changed his mind on keeping Bharara. "I'm just curious as to why that is," Cummings said on ABC's "This Week" program. "Certainly, there's a lot of questions coming up as to whether ... President Trump is concerned about the jurisdiction of this U.S. attorney and whether that might affect his future."
In a cryptic follow up tweet on Sunday afternoon, his first since announcing his termination, Bharara said he tweeted Sunday that he now understood what the “Moreland Commission” felt like.
By the way, now I know what the Moreland Commission must have felt like.— Preet Bharara (@PreetBharara) March 12, 2017
The tweet appears to be a jab at Trump; with many immediately hinting the reference to the commission as suggesting the president fired Bharara because he was looking into possible corruption in the administration.
Wow. Moreland Commission was created by Cuomo to probe NYS corruption & then disbanded by him. Is Bharara implying he was probing Trump? https://t.co/Z1p1rCKHbv— David Corn (@DavidCornDC) March 12, 2017
As the Hill summarizes, the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption focused on investigating possible corruption activities in New York. Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, ran it until Gov. Andrew Cuomo shut down the anticorruption panel while it was investigating allegations that the Democratic governor interfered with one of its investigations.
Many belive the powerful politician dismantled the Moreland Commission for investigating him.
For now, the mystery over why Trump fired Bharara after asking him to stay on just three months ago, remains.