The President firing Preet Bharara would be a major, unforced error
John covered the announcement that 46 US Attorneys would be fired last night but the news comes with a major hitch in the story. One person whose name showed up on the list in a most unexpected fashion was the US Attorney for the Southern District in New York, Preet Bharara. News outlets across the nation, including the Washington Post, New York Times and CNN immediately focused on Bharara for obvious reasons. Bloomberg immediately noted the various pots which Bharara has boiling on the front burner currently and wondered if he would at least be allowed to stick around long enough to see these important cases through to the end.
Wall Street enforcer Preet Bharara may be forced out as the U.S. attorney in Manhattan despite assurances he said he had received from the incoming Trump administration that he would remain in the job…
It’s unclear whether Bharara might be asked to complete some of his cases before leaving office. A Justice Department spokeswoman said the request for resignations applied to “all Senate-confirmed U.S. attorneys.” An administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said all U.S. attorneys were being asked to submit resignations and that they were all expected to be accepted.
“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,” Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said in a statement.
It is as difficult to describe what a negative impact firing Preet Bharara would have on the justice system as it is to understand why this decision is being made. As has already been repeatedly reported, Bharara had meetings with both Donald Trump and incoming Attorney General Jeff sessions months ago where he was asked if he’d be willing to stay on and complete his important work.
Bharara has achieved deservedly legendary status in the law enforcement community and you can read the many remarkable stories of his exploits which have been covered here in the past. Replacing him would be a Herculean task in this era of political partisanship and cronyism. Donald Trump has spoken frequently and passionately, both on the campaign trail and in the early weeks of his presidency, about the need to “drain the swamp” in government and restore the trust of the voters and their elected leadership. When it comes to matters such as this, Preet Bharara is an industrial strength suction pump who could turn the Florida Everglades into a desert in under a day. He has no friends in the political establishment from either party. The most powerful elected leaders in the region absolutely dread the thought of hearing his footsteps approaching their office.
It’s worth reminding everyone at this juncture that Bharara was the man who took down the most powerful Democrat in New York State, Sheldon Silver, and followed that up with a conviction of New York’s top Republican, Dean Skelos. Both of those men currently face the prospect of very possibly dying behind bars. He currently has investigations underway into the affairs of the Clinton Foundation’s offices in New York City, the mayor of the Big Apple and the Governor himself. (He has already indicted several members of the Governor’s inner circle.)
The New York Post editorial board was quick out of the gate after this announcement to urge the President to reconsider this action.
Trump and Sessions were right the first time, and they need to rescind the order for Bharara, the most successful prosecutor yet when it comes to undoing New York’s culture of political corruption.
Indeed, this comes as he’s still investigating the de Blasio administration and other key figures in New York for possible corruption. It’s absolutely the wrong time for him to leave.
Who will take up these daunting challenges if Preet Bharara is sent to the bench? I understand that there is some concern over the general attitude demonstrated by President Trump when it comes to walking back any decisions that he makes. A reversal of course might, in the minds of some of his advisers, be seen as an admission of error or a failure of some sort. That should not be the case here. This was a completely normal policy of sweeping out old political appointees when a new administration comes to town, and it could be readily explained that Bharara simply was caught up in that initial activity when the original intention was to exempt them him it. Conversely, taking a player like Bharara off the board now would send a signal of bowing to political pressure and protecting well heeled bureaucrats who have been playing fast and loose with the taxpayers’ money and campaign funds.
It’s not too late to undo this. President Trump could simply send out the Attorney General to say that in light of their previous discussions with southern New York’s US Attorney he would be asked to stay on “for the time being.” And given his record of success independent of political considerations, who would find fault if that period of “for the time being” wound up extending to the end of Trump’s tenure in office?