President Donald Trump’s abrupt ouster of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and dozens of other top federal prosecutors jeopardizes the “continuity” of ongoing investigations including those into Wall Street and public corruption, Sen. Chuck Schumer said Sunday.
Bharara on Sunday alluded to public corruption issues by tweeting, “By the way, now I know what the Moreland Commission must have felt like.” The tweet was a reference to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s public corruption panel that was abruptly disbanded before it had concluded all of its work.
Bharara has said Cuomo’s shutdown of the Moreland Commission on public corruption was “premature” as it continued to work open cases. Cuomo created the commission in June 2013 and appointed top prosecutors to investigate corruption in Albany, although it focused on the legislature. Cuomo abruptly shut down the commission in April 2014 in a political deal with legislative leaders that included approval of some ethics measures. Bharara took over several of the commission’s open investigations.
“Preet took on Wall Street and corruption among public officials better than anyone else,” Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Senate minority leader, said at a Manhattan news conference. “I believe the president’s decision to change his mind and fire Preet says far more about the president than it does about Preet.”
Trump, during a November meeting with Bharara at Trump Tower, had assured the prosecutor he would stay in office.
A Department of Justice spokeswoman said Sunday that the agency isn’t commenting further on the dismissal.
Bharara, an Obama appointee who developed a reputation as a public corruption crusader after scoring convictions against Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike, had recently received requests from government watchdog groups asking him to look into Trump’s business dealings, according to media reports.
The Trump administration on Friday called for the resignation of 46 U.S. attorneys appointed by the Obama administration, but Bharara refused to step down and was ultimately fired.
“I did not resign. Moments ago I was fired,” Bharara said in a Saturday Twitter post.
A senior White House official said Sunday that Trump had reached out to Bharara on Thursday “to thank him for his service and to wish him good luck,” but didn’t elaborate further when asked about the president’s turnaround on Bharara.
Bharara did not return Trump’s call, and instead called Justice Department officials, to advise them he could not return the call because of protocols limiting communication between the president and prosecutors, according to a report published Saturday by The New York Times.
While presidents have traditionally replaced U.S. attorneys with their own appointees, Schumer said Friday’s move was different because past administrations have typically provided outgoing prosecutors with more time until a permanent replacement is named.
“They have rarely told them, ‘Have your stuff cleared out by Friday,’ ” Schumer said. “It ruins the continuity of cases.”
Bharara’s office has yet to wrap-up its investigation into New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign fundraising operation.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) on Sunday called Bharara “fearless in confronting political corruption. We need more of that these days — not less.”
But Rep. Pete King (R-Seaford) said in an interview that Trump was following precedent.
“He wanted an entirely clean slate ... This was the time to do it and do it all at once,” King said. “Bharara was caught up in that. Trump couldn’t make an exception.”
Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) in an interview lauded Bharara as a “talented guy,” but said “it’s the president’s prerogative” to name his own appointee.
Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City), the former Nassau County district attorney, in a statement called Bharara “an outstanding prosecutor” and said his removal “while not without precedent, raises serious questions in light of President Trump’s bizarre allegations of illegal wiretaps and his administration’s attempts to interfere with ongoing investigations.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings (R-Md.) on ABC News’ “This Week” suggested it was suspicious that the president changed his mind on Bharara after initially offering to keep him on.
“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,” Cummings said.
On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) indicated he believed such dismissals were common in a change of administration.“I don’t know what his promise was to Mr. Bharara,” McCain said, “but I do know that other administrations have done the same thing, perhaps not in as abrupt a fashion. But . . . elections have consequences.”