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U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara Fired After Refusing To Resign


We start the program off today with news about a clash between the White House and the U.S. attorney for Manhattan. Federal prosecutor Preet Bharara was fired. He's the best-known U.S. attorney from the Obama administration, a man who once appeared on the cover of Time magazine as the top sheriff on Wall Street. Bharara developed a national reputation for prosecuting corrupt New York state officials and several businessmen ensnared in insider trading. With us to talk about him is NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Carrie, hello.


SINGH: Seems like a lot of drama coming from the Justice Department this year. What happened with this U.S. attorney?

JOHNSON: Well, sources inside the government are telling me the White House decided Friday to get rid of the remaining Obama U.S. attorneys, nearly 50 of them. These are political appointments, so there's nothing wrong with that. But it wasn't communicated very clearly. Some U.S. attorneys found out they were losing their jobs by reading it on Twitter or social media. And in the immediate aftermath, it wasn't clear exactly who was getting fired.

SINGH: If all the Obama holdovers were going to lose their jobs, why was there a commotion surrounding Preet Bharara in New York?

JOHNSON: Well, Preet Bharara thought he had a deal. In November, Bharara made a very high-profile appearance at Trump Tower in New York. He met with the president-elect and later reported he was going to be allowed to stay on the job. Preet Bharara's former boss, powerful New York Senator Chuck Schumer, praised Donald Trump for that decision. But when Judgment Day came, it turned out Bharara was out after all along with the other Obama holdovers.

SINGH: Carrie, the other U.S. attorneys seem to have submitted their resignations, but you're reporting that Bharara refused to write a letter like that.

JOHNSON: Yeah, I'm hearing he really loved the job. He called it in a tweet this afternoon the greatest honor of my professional life. And he felt there was still a lot of work to do. It's been widely reported he's investigating people close to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, both Democrats. And he's also investigating some financial dealings at Fox News surrounding settlements the company paid to employees who claimed they had been sexually harassed.

All those are very sensitive matters. He didn't want to leave the work undone. But later today, a DOJ official made the call for him at the behest of the White House. They spoke this afternoon. I'm told by sources and Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente confirmed that Preet Bharara was among the batch that needed to go.

SINGH: Now, just last week, some ethics watchdogs wrote to the U.S. attorney asking him to investigate Donald Trump's business interests. Is there any connection there to his firing?

JOHNSON: Lakshmi, it's not clear what, if anything, Preet Bharara was looking into with respect to Trump or Trump Tower, any business associates of Donald Trump. A lawyer for President Trump said those claims are inaccurate and politically motivated. But Bharara may have had some hint the axe was going to fall. Earlier this week, he tweeted about past political interference by the George W. Bush White House.

SINGH: That's NPR's Carrie Johnson. Thank you, Carrie.

JOHNSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.
Lakshmi Singh is a midday newscaster and a guest host for NPR, which she joined in 2000.