By Mark Hosenball and Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two days before US Attorney Preet Bharara was fired, President Donald Trump tried to call the high-profile New York prosecutor in what a White House official said was an effort to “thank him. his service and wish him well. ” luck.”
But a US law enforcement official said Bharara refused to take the call, made Thursday, and said he did not want to speak to the president without the approval of his superiors.
Bharara said on Saturday that he had been fired after he challenged a request to resign. The move came as a surprise because Bharara had told reporters in November that Trump had asked him to remain in office.
As chief federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, which includes Manhattan, Bharara oversaw several notable cases of corruption and white-collar crime, as well as prosecutions of terror suspects.
He was one of 46 remnants of the Obama administration who were asked by the Justice Department to resign on Friday.
Although US prosecutors are political appointees and Trump’s Justice Department request is part of a routine process, the move came as a surprise. Not all new administrations replace all US prosecutors at once.
The White House declined to comment further on the resignations.
The Southern District of New York office handles some of the most critical business and criminal cases that pass through the federal court system. Bharara had been overseeing an investigation into New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s fundraiser.
Bharara said that his deputy, Joon Kim, would be his temporary replacement.
The law enforcement source declined to comment on whether the bureau had active Trump-related investigations.
On Wednesday, three watchdog groups asked Bharara to take steps to prevent the Trump Organization from receiving benefits from foreign governments that could enrich Trump, who has not given up ownership of the business.
Norm Eisen, a former White House ethics attorney who leads one of the groups, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, questioned the timing of the layoffs.
“I think something strange happened,” he said. “It is not decided to keep 46 people and suddenly demands their immediate departure, without any precipitating cause or causes.”
Democrat Elijah Cummings, a senior member of the House Oversight Committee, said Sunday that it was the president’s prerogative to fire US prosecutors. But he questioned why Trump had suddenly changed his mind about staying with Bharara.
“I’m just curious why this is the case,” Cummings said on ABC’s “This Week.” “Certainly, a lot of questions arise about whether … President Trump is concerned about the jurisdiction of this US attorney and if that could affect his future.”
Republican Senator John McCain said he did not know what promises Trump might have made to Bharara in terms of keeping him, but said the president was within his right to seek the resignation of political appointees from a previous administration.
“I know other administrations have done the same, perhaps not in such an abrupt way,” McCain said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“Elections have consequences, so for people to complain they are ignoring the history of the new presidencies and I think the president had every right to ask for their resignations,” said McCain.