Prominent US Attorney Preet Bharara says he was 'fired' after not resigning

Justice Department asked for resignations of U.S. attorney holdovers from Obama.

ByABC News
March 11, 2017, 9:40 PM

— -- The most prominent U.S. attorney in the nation, Preet Bharara, announced Saturday that he was "fired" after he did not resign.

"Today, I was fired from my position as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York," Bharara said in a statement late Saturday afternoon. "Serving my country as U.S. attorney here for the past seven years will forever be the greatest honor of my professional life, no matter what else I do or how long I live."

Earlier in the afternoon, Bharara tweeted, "I did not resign. Moments ago I was fired."

His tweet came close to 24 hours after the U.S. Department of Justice on Friday asked all U.S. attorneys remaining as holdovers from the Obama administration to step down.

By Friday night, many who had been asked to leave -- including the U.S. attorneys in New Jersey, Rhode Island, Minnesota and Arkansas -— had publicly announced their departure.

But Bharara, who had said in November that President Trump had asked him to stay on, had still not resigned as of midday Saturday.

A Justice Department official told ABC News that Dana Boente, the acting U.S. deputy attorney general, spoke with Bharara on Saturday afternoon.

Bharara wanted to know if the request for a resignation applied to him, and he was told it did, according to the official.

A person briefed on the situation told ABC News that Bharara believed that his discussions in November with then-President-elect Trump and Sen. Jeff Sessions, who has since become attorney general, concluded with an agreement that Bharara would remain in his post during Trump's term as president.

On Thursday, Bharara received a voicemail from an assistant to Trump, asking him to call back to speak to the president, according to an official briefed on the matter. Bharara didn't know the subject and had no reason to believe he was being fired, according to the official.

Bharara believed it would be a violation of DOJ protocol to have any call with the president, so he called Sessions' chief of staff, who agreed, the official said. Bharara told the Sessions aide he would be calling Trump's assistant back out of professional respect to say that he could not speak with the president, per Justice Department policy, and that is what he did, according to the official.

Asked about the account, the U.S. attorney's office spokesperson had no comment beyond Bharara's statement and tweet from earlier today.

When Bharara was told Friday that he, along with the other U.S. attorney holdovers, would have to resign, he asked if the order applied to him given his agreement with Trump and Sessions.

The acting U.S. deputy attorney general said he did not know the answer, according to the person briefed on the matter, and as of this morning, Bharara still did not have an answer and had not submitted his resignation.

When Bharara met with Trump and Sessions in November, it was clear he was asked to stay on, according to the person briefed on the situation. What was apparently not made explicit was whether that request applied to Trump's full term or just the transition period. Bharara had believed it was for the full term.

"The president-elect asked, presumably because he's a New Yorker and is aware of the great work that our office has done over the past seven years, asked to meet with me to discuss whether or not I'd be prepared to stay on as the United States attorney to do the work as we have done it, independently, without fear or favor for the last seven years,” Bharara told reporters after his meeting with Trump at Trump Tower on Nov. 30. "I have already spoken to Sen. Sessions, who is as you know is the nominee to be the attorney general. He also asked that I stay on, and so I expect that I will be continuing to work at the Southern District.”

It is not unusual for U.S. attorneys, who are appointed by presidents, to be asked to resign when a new president takes office, especially when there is a change of party at the White House.

The Justice Department has 93 U.S. attorneys covering 94 districts. About half of those from the Obama administration had already resigned before Friday, leaving 46 still in place.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked Friday for the prompt resignations of the 46 U.S. attorneys who remain from President Obama’s administration.

On Friday night, President Trump called two of them -- Boente and Rod Rosenstein -- to inform them he has declined to accept their resignations, a senior administration official told ABC News.

Boente, the acting deputy attorney general, is the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. Rosenstein, the U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland, is Trump’s nominee for deputy attorney general.

“As was the case in prior transitions, many of the United States attorneys nominated by the previous administration already have left the Department of Justice,” agency spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said in a statement Friday. “The attorney general has now asked the remaining 46 presidentially appointed U.S. attorneys to tender their resignations in order to ensure a uniform transition.”

Until new U.S. attorneys are confirmed, Flores said career prosecutors in the 94 districts will continue overseeing cases. The Trump administration has not yet nominated any new U.S. attorneys.

In place of Bharara in Manhattan, his former deputy, Joon H. Kim, is now acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Bharara said in his statement.

ABC News’ Aaron Katersky, Jack Date, Benjamin Siegel and Pierre Thomas contributed to this report. The Associated Press also contributed to this report

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