Did President Trump fire Preet Bharara, the federal prosecutor with jurisdiction over the President’s Manhattan residence, to head off a potential corruption investigation?
Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings believes it’s possible. “Just not very long ago, the President was saying that he was going to keep the U.S. attorney there in New York. And then, suddenly, he’s, I guess, changed his mind. I’m just curious as to why that is,” Cummings, a Democrat, said on Sunday. “And certainly, there’s a lot of questions coming up as to whether Mr. Trump is – President Trump - is concerned about the jurisdiction of this U.S. attorney and whether that might affect his future.”
Cummings went on to suggest that Bharara might have been dismissed because he was pursuing a request from several watchdog groups that he investigate Trump for possible violations of the Constitution’s “emoluments clause,” which bars government officials from receiving gifts or payments from foreign governments. The president owns office buildings, hotels, resorts and other properties around the world, including a downtown Washington, D.C. hotel.
Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, was dismissed on Saturday after refusing a request from the administration that he resign. He is one of 46 federal prosecutors across the country who were let go as Trump’s team completed a housecleaning of chief prosecutors in all 93 federal judicial districts.
Most of the departed U.S. attorneys left voluntarily. It’s customary for a new president to install new prosecutors. Attorney General Jeff Sessions fell victim to the process himself in 1993, when he was serving as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama and was asked to resign by the incoming administration of President Bill Clinton.
Bharara, known for his aggressive pursuit of corruption cases, met with Trump during the transition and told reporters later that the president-elect wanted him to remain on the job. "The firing of Preet Bharara as US Attorney for the Southern District of New York is a stark setback for the fight against corruption, particularly public corruption, in New York," said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York. "He clearly and consistently stood up for a vision of what our democracy should and can be, setting the bar high for citizens and even higher for those privileged enough to serve them in public office. He has taken on seemingly impenetrable political corruption in pursuit of justice for New Yorkers, who deserve his continued leadership. As US Attorney, Bharara was consistently – and unusually – independent and apolitical, ready to investigate and prosecute corrupt public officials regardless of their positions of power or party affiliation. While presidents often replace U.S. Attorneys, it is troubling that Bharara was dismissed one week after being asked publicly to look into violations of the Emoluments Clause by the President. This is a huge loss but to quote the man himself we will 'stay tuned'."
The White House has offered no explanation for why the president changed his mind and dismissed Bharara, though The New York Times reports this morning that Trump tried – and failed – to reach the prosecutor by phone on Thursday. Concerned about a possible violation of Justice Department protocols on contacts with the president, Bharara decided not to return Trump’s call, The Times said.
Tags: Executive Ethics