US President Donald Trump has asked 46 United States attorneys to step down, including Preet Bharara, the high-profile Indian American who as head of the Southern district of New York had jurisdiction over Wall Street.
All were nominees of former President Barack Obama, and there was nothing unusual in their firing — former President Bill Clinton had sacked more than 90 in a day — but some have objected to the manner in which the resignations were sought.
“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,” Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores, wrote in an email cited by The New York Times. “The attorney general (Jeff Sessions) has now asked the remaining 46 presidentially appointed US attorneys to tender their resignations in order to ensure a uniform transition.”
There was some confusion if all resignations will be accepted — Trump called two on the list to reject their resignations. Bharara was not one of them.
US attorneys prosecute federal crimes, and Bharara had built a reputation for pursuing securities crimes that had earned him the sobriquet “Sheriff of Wall Street” — among his most famous convictions was that of fellow Indian-American Rajat Gupta, formerly the head of McKinsey and director Goldman Sachs.
His sacking was most surprising, considering he had apparently been asked by Trump to continue. The attorney in November had said that Trump asked him to stay on. “The president-elect asked, presumably because he’s a New Yorker... 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 favour for the last seven years,” Bharara told reporters after a meet with Trump.
“We had a good meeting. I said I would absolutely consider staying on. I agreed to stay on. I have already spoken to Senator 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.”
He was the first Obama appointee to have been asked to continue.
In 2013, Bharara’s handling of the case involving Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade — who was arrested for providing false information on a visa application for a domestic help — led to criticism from India. According to sources close to Bharara, the episode had irked the attorney, especially personal attacks by some in India who had accused him of being too aggressive in this instance.