FRIDAY NIGHT MASSACRE
Trump to U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara: You're Fired
When the Trump administration ordered 46 United States attorneys to resign immediately—New York's Preet Bharara refused. So the White House fired him.
UPDATED: Just hours after refusing to hand in his resignation, Preet Bharara, the crusading U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced on Twitter that he had been fired. Bharara was asked to submit his resignation letter Friday, along with the 45 other U.S. Attorneys held over from the Obama administration. "I did not resign. Moments ago I was fired. Being the US Attorney in SDNY will forever be the greatest honor of my professional life," he wrote.
Bharara—whose office is in the end stages of an investigation of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, about to begin the trials of two close allies of Governor Andrew Cuomo, and also appears to be investigating how Fox News structured settlements of sexual harassment and other claims brought by its employees—met with Donald Trump shortly after the election and was told that he would stay. Just this week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions assured him in a phone conversation that he’d remain atop the Southern District, according to the federal law enforcement official.
Friday evening, the law enforcement official told The Daily Beast, Bharara told his section chiefs that he’d yet to submit the requested letter and might instead challenge Sessions to fire him. Evidently, the White House did not back down.
The request for Bharara’s resignation came a week to the day after he’d started a personal Twitter feed where he’d Tweeted Monday: “This Senate hearing on political interference @ DOJ was 10 yrs ago today. Is that me in background? Boy I've aged.”
Bharara, then the chief counselor to Sen. Charles Schumer, helped lead the Senate’s probe into the midterm dismissals of eight U.S. Attorneys that in turn led to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
Of the 46 U.S. Attorneys asked to resign, Trump personally called two—Dana Boente in Alexandria, Va., the acting deputy attorney general, and Rod Rosenstein in Maryland, Trump’s nominee to serve as deputy attorney general, which would place him in charge of the Russia probe from which Jeff Sessions has recused himself—to tell them they would be staying on. “We were always planning for it on around day 50,” a senior administration official told Politico.
But the Trump administration’s call for resignations seemed less remarkable for what it asked for than how it asked. While new presidents often sweep out U.S. Attorneys to put in their own picks, they rarely do so until replacements are ready. Trump, though, has not yet formally nominated anyone to a U.S. Attorney post.
Most of the 46 U.S. Attorneys had no heads up at all that they were fired before Justice put out its statement Friday afternoon, with a law enforcement source telling CNN that Boente had just begun placing calls. And it came less than 24 hours after Trump’s friend and adviser Sean Hannity called on his Fox News show for a “purge” of Obama loyalists at the Justice Department.
In Brooklyn, Robert Capers—who just weeks ago had sent his attorneys to court to offer a remarkably feeble defense of Trump’s first travel ban executive order—called an all-hands meeting to give the news that he was out, and then walked out of the room, bag in hand, directly from the lectern, according to one person present.
In New Jersey, Paul Fishman was on a plane back from the American Bar Association’s white-collar conference in Miami when he got the word.
In a statement late Friday, Schumer, the Senate minority leader, said he was "troubled to learn of reports of requests for resignations from the remaining U.S. attorneys, particularly that of Bharara.
"While it's true that presidents from both parties made their own choices for U.S. Attorney positions across the country, they have always done so in an orderly fashion that doesn't put ongoing investigations at risk.”
The sweeping and immediate move, though, has become a pattern for an administration that, after winning the election by ignoring conventional wisdom and manners, seems confident that disruption plays to its benefit, with limited downside since they expect to be criticized by the press in any case.
“Everything these people do is a Saturday night massacre. Remember the ambassadors?” the law enforcement source said, referring to Trump’s early January decision as president-elect to boot all politically appointed diplomats from their posts by Inauguration Day, even before most of their replacements were lined up.
“It’s such a lack of basic fucking decency and civility. They don’t see anyone as human beings; it’s horrifying.”
NOTE: This piece has been updated to reflect the news that U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara was fired on Saturday.