Preet Bharara, a prominent former U.S. attorney who was let go by President Donald Trump in March, revealed in detail the events that led up to his firing in a podcast released Wednesday morning.
In the first episode of his new podcast from WNYC Studios and CAFE, “Stay Tuned with Preet,” Bharara outlined each of his interactions with Trump and the White House between the November election and his sudden dismissal in early March.
Bharara said that Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) first informed him about a week after the election that Trump wanted him to stay on as the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, an unusual move given that a President typically asks all U.S. attorneys to resign at the beginning of a first term.
Trump then confirmed in a Nov. 30 meeting at Trump Tower that he wanted the top prosecutor to stay on, Bharara said. He recalled that Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his adviser Stephen Bannon were also at the meeting and in an “upbeat” mood. Trump “did not say anything inappropriate” and did not discuss individual cases during the meeting, the former U.S. attorney said; instead Trump asked Bharara for his contact info, and Bharara gave him his office and cell phone numbers.
“It was odd because as a general matter, presidents don’t speak directly to United States attorneys,” he said. “It’s unheard of in my experience.”
A couple weeks later, on Dec. 12, Bharara said he missed a phone call from Trump and discussed with his staff whether it would be appropriate to call the President-elect back. Bharara said he also called the head of the Justice Department transition team to convey that it’s “not the greatest thing in the world for there to be a direct and casual line of communication between a sitting United States attorney and the future president of the United States, particularly given the kind of jurisdiction I have in Manhattan.”
Bharara said he decided to return that call, and that there was nothing “untoward” in the subsequent conversation. He said it seemed that Trump just wanted to “cultivate a relationship” with him.
The former prosecutor then got another call from Trump just before the inauguration, he said. He decided it was appropriate to call Trump back, given that he was not yet President. Again, Bharara recalled that Trump just wanted to chit chat and the two did not discuss individual cases.
Things changed when the White House called Bharara on March 9 and asked that he call Trump. Bharara said he felt it was inappropriate to call a sitting President, and looked through Justice Department rules on the matter to back up his decision. The former U.S. attorney said he briefly considered recording the phone call with Trump or else having another person on the line, but quickly dismissed the ideas as “a bridge too far.”
He also said he called Jody Hunt, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ chief of staff and Trump’s nominee to be assistant attorney general of the department’s Civil Division, to discuss the matter. According to Bharara, Hunt agreed that it would not be appropriate for him to speak with Trump.
About 20 hours after he declined to return that fateful call, Bharara, along with all other holdover U.S. attorneys, was asked to resign.
“I don’t know if those two events are connected. We may never know. But the timing certainly is pretty odd,” Bharara said on the podcast.
The former prosecutor said he did not submit a letter of resignation when he initially heard from the Justice Department that he was being asked to resign, given his previous conversations with Trump. But Bharara said that once he confirmed what was happening, he obliged.
Perhaps he views the ordeal as all for the best: Bharara was emphatic on the podcast that he believes Trump would have asked him to do something inappropriate if he had stayed on in the Southern District of New York after all.
“I believe, based on the information that we have about the President talking to Jim Comey relating to Michael Flynn, the information about the President talking to Jeff Sessions about the case of Joe Arpaio, and how he wanted both of those cases to go away, that had I not been fired, and had Donald Trump continued to cultivate a direct, personal relationship with me,” he said. “It’s my strong belief, that at some point, given the history, the President of the United States would have asked me to do something inappropriate. And I would have resigned then.”
Listen to the podcast episode via WNYC: