Two days before US Attorney Preet Bharara was fired, President Donald Trump tried to call the high-profile New York prosecutor in what an official said was an effort to “thank him for his service and to wish him good luck.”
But a US law enforcement official said Bharara declined to take the call, placed on Thursday, saying he did not want to talk to the president without the approval of his superiors.
Bharara said on Saturday he had been fired after he defied a request to resign. The move was a surprise because Bharara had told reporters in November that Trump had asked him to remain in the job.
As the chief federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, which includes Manhattan, Bharara oversaw several notable corruption and white-collar criminal cases, as well as prosecutions of terrorism suspects.
The Trump administration’s firing of Bharara has sent shockwaves through New York, but veterans of the high-profile office expect a longstanding mission of cracking down on political corruption and Wall Street wrongdoing to remain intact.
Staffed with more than one hundred career prosecutors, the Manhattan US Attorney’s Office has a long history of being apolitical and pursuing a wide range of investigations into terrorism, public corruption, securities fraud and cyber crime, former prosecutors said.
Lorin Reisner, former head of the office’s criminal division from 2012 to 2014, who is now in private practice at law firm Paul Weiss, said the priorities of the office are unlikely to change, regardless of who replaces Bharara.
“Generations of SDNY prosecutors have been told that their job is to do the right thing, for the right reasons, every day, in every case,” he said, using the acronym for the office, the Southern District of New York.
Hanging in the balance are ongoing investigations of potential fraud at Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc and its ties to a mail-order pharmacy and of two massive data breaches at Yahoo Inc, including one affecting more than one billion user accounts.
The office is also investigating a major cyber heist from the Bank of Bangladesh involving funds which moved through the New York Federal Reserve bank.
Bharara, appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009, lived up to the office’s reputation, investigating Republicans and Democrats alike. He has been overseeing a probe into Democratic New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s fundraising.
“It would be tremendously difficult for any US attorney to come in and politicise that office,” said Carrie Cohen, a former prosecutor who worked under Bharara and is now in private practice at Morrison & Foerster.
President Trump has yet to announce a replacement for Bharara or the other remaining 45 US attorneys from the Obama era who were asked to step down on Friday.