Preet Bharara, the high-profile federal prosecutor who was fired by President Donald Trump’s administration after refusing to resign, has been replaced temporarily by a long-time friend and top adviser.
Joon H Kim, 45, who had previously served as Bharara’s chief counsel, criminal division head and top deputy, will be acting US attorney in the Southern District of New York until Trump nominates a candidate for the job who can be confirmed by the Senate. That process could take months.
In the meantime, Kim, the son of a South Korean diplomat who came up through the ranks of the US attorney’s office in Manhattan prosecuting organised crime and terrorism cases with his old boss, isn’t likely to stop pursuing the kinds of cases that have made the Manhattan prosecutor’s office known for its reach and breadth, former colleagues say.
“I think things will continue to hum along,” said Lev Dassin, who served as acting US attorney in Manhattan for eight months beginning in December 2008 after Michael Garcia resigned.
Kim’s promotion comes after a public confrontation between the Trump administration and Bharara, 48, who was asked to resign last week with 45 other prosecutors appointed during president Barack Obama’s administration. Bharara had said in November that Trump had assured him that the job was his to keep.
A spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office didn’t respond to a request for an interview.
Kim’s former colleagues said that there was no reason to believe he would pursue existing cases any differently following Bharara’s high-profile departure.
“The nice thing here is that Preet and Joon have been working together for quite a while,” said Jennifer Rodgers, the executive director of the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity at Columbia Law School. Rogers once worked with Kim on a case against Peter J Gotti, a son of the late Gambino crime boss John Gotti Jr.
Sharp and self-deprecating, Kim puts people at ease with a regular-guy look and ability to explain even the most complex of issues in everyman terms, colleagues say.
“He is one of the funniest guys I’ve ever met in my life,” said Michael McGovern, who tried a host of cases against the Gambinos with Kim, including two hung-jury cases against John Gotti Jr.
“Even in the toughest of cases, when either at the end of the day or while the jury is deliberating, we’re sitting there in the trial room, sometimes late into the evening, he’d have me just bent over laughing,” McGovern said.
In 2009, when South Korea reformed its judicial system, the country asked Kim to come and train its prosecutors, said Victor Hou, who worked with Kim both in government and private practice.
A graduate of Phillips Exeter Academy, Stanford and Harvard Law School, Kim worked in the federal prosecutor’s office from 2000 to 2006 before he joined the Manhattan firm Cleary Gottlieb, where he helped defend Citibank against charges of manipulating interest rates.
In 2013, Bharara brought him back as his chief counsel, describing him in a memo to staff as “an incredibly exacting lawyer with unerring judgment”.
On Monday, as dozens of lawyers in the US attorney’s office in downtown Manhattan gathered outside to bid him farewell, Bharara turned to Kim and embraced him before heading back into the office for the last time.