JUDICIARY

US attorney Bharara is fired after rejecting Sessions' step-down request

AG Sessions asked Obama-appointed attorneys to resign

 

An outspoken Manhattan federal prosecutor known for fighting public corruption was fired Saturday afternoon.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara tweeted that he "did not resign" and added, "Moments ago, I was fired. Being the US Attorney in SDNY will forever be the greatest honor of my professional life."

"One hallmark of justice is absolute independence, and that was my touchstone every day that I served. I want to thank the amazing people of the Southern District of New York, the greatest public servants in the world, for everything they do each day in pursuit of justice," Bharara said in a statement. "They will continue to do the great work of the Office under the leadership of Joon H. Kim, the current Deputy U.S. Attorney, who will serve as Acting U.S. Attorney.”    

A senior administration official, however, told Fox News that Bharara may be using this event for political gain. Bharara has long been speculated as a potential candidate for public office in New York. 

The word "fired" was never used toward Bharara, accoding to the senior administration official, who added: "Preet is trying to make this into a thing. But it is not really a thing."

The senior administration official also noted that everyone was treated the same, meaning that all of the Obama-appointed US attorney were asked to step down. 

A person with knowledge of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's actions said earlier Saturday that he was taking President Trump up on his word that he can remain in his post. The person, who spoke to the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to comment publicly, said Bharara was remaining in his post after receiving assurances last year from Trump and Sessions that they wanted him to stay on. 

However, a senior administration official told Fox News later Saturday night that Bharara's account of his meeting with Trump and Jeff Sessions at Trump Tower -- where he informed the press afterward that he was invited to stay on indefinitely as U.S. attorney -- was never confirmed by Trump's transition team but was solely an account from Bharara himself.  

It was previously reported by the Associated Press that Bharara was not complying with Attorney General Jeff Sessions' request to resign along with other prosecutors appointed by former President Barack Obama.

New York Attorny General Eric Schneiderman issued a statement Saturday afternoon.

“Preet Bharara has been an exemplary U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. His relentless drive to root out public corruption, lock up terrorists, take on Wall Street, and stand up for what is right should serve as a model for all U.S. attorneys across the country. He will be sorely missed," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, in a statement. 

Spokespeople for Bharara's office declined comment after word Friday that Bharara's name was included on Sessions' list.

The Justice Department declined comment early Saturday.

The department said Friday that some U.S. attorneys, as in prior transitions, already had left the department. Now, "the Attorney General has now asked the remaining 46 presidentially appointed U.S. Attorneys to tender their resignations," a spokeswoman said.

“Until the new U.S. Attorneys are confirmed, the dedicated career prosecutors in our U.S. Attorney’s Offices will continue the great work of the Department in investigating, prosecuting, and deterring the most violent offenders,” the statement added.

Department of Justice spokesperson Peter Carr told Fox News late Friday night: “The President called Dana Boente and Rod Rosenstein tonight to inform them that he has declined to accept their resignation, and they will remain in their current positions.”

It is customary, though not automatic, for the country's 93 U.S. attorneys to leave their positions once a new president is in office. Incoming administrations over the past several decades typically have replaced most U.S. attorneys during the first year or two.

The Obama administration allowed political appointees of President George W. Bush to serve until their replacement had been nominated and confirmed. One U.S. attorney appointed by Bush, Rod Rosenstein of Maryland, remained on the job for the entire Obama administration and is the current nominee for deputy attorney general.

But Sessions' actions are being closely scrutinized by Democrats after a rocky start to the attorney general’s time at the Justice Department.

Weeks after his tight confirmation vote on Feb. 8, it emerged that Sessions had met twice with the Russian ambassador last year -- despite testifying during his confirmation hearing he had no communications with the Russians. Sessions later clarified his testimony, while recusing himself from any investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 campaign.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, issued a statement late Friday saying: “I’m surprised to hear that President Trump and Attorney General Sessions have abruptly fired all 46 remaining U.S. attorneys. "

Fox News White House Producer Serafin Gomez and the Associated Press contributed to this report.