What James Comey is really rude
How Donald Trump fired me
The US president fired a dozen top people in his first year: ministers, communications chiefs, advisors, the FBI chief. How and why Trump removed me from my office as prosecutor.
My name is Preet Bharara and I had the best job in America once. I was the district attorney for the southern district of New York and I worked side by side with the most successful and honorable civil servants the country has ever seen.
Our office took care of the worst criminals in the US and the world - from Somali pirates to corrupt politicians to Russian spies. Gangsters hated us, Wall Street impostors feared us, the Russian government forbade me from entering their country.
In short: life was great. On the way to work, I felt the responsibility that weighed on me every day to find truth and justice. I tried my best to do the right thing. All in all, my job was pretty great and I wanted it to never end.
Then, after a few months under Trump as president, I was fired.
The New York Times called him the "Sheriff of Manhattan". Preetinder Singh Bharara was the Chief Prosecutor of the Southern District in New York State from 2009 to 2017. Wall Street came under his jurisdiction.
Bharara prosecuted wrongful bankers and received billions in fines against large financial institutions such as Citibank and JP MorganChase. Swiss banks were also targeted. His investigations led, among other things, to the overthrow of Wegelin & Co.
49-year-old Preet Bharara is the son of Indian immigrants and studied law at Harvard University. Today he publishes a weekly podcast speaking to high-ranking politicians and officials about the state of the American judiciary.
How it came about I have never told publicly until now, and I want to start off by saying that I can only tell the story from my own perspective. Here she is:
It's November 8th, 2016. Donald Trump wins the presidential election. Historically, that means for many prosecutors across the country: You're rid of the job. On that day, I was mentally working on a list of things that I wanted to work through in the last few months as a prosecutor.
Sure: I had to quit a great job and end working with the most capable work colleagues I've ever had. But I was ready to move on, because that's how it is when the other side wins the elections.
So, you can imagine my surprise when, eight days after the election, I received a call from my former supervisor, Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senator for New York State.
As we stepped into the lobby of the Trump Tower, I wondered what to expect from talking to Trump.
Trump said to him: “You know, I like Preet a lot. Could you ask him if he would stay as a prosecutor? "It came as a surprise to me that Donald Trump liked me. But I think I was mostly flattered back then.
I said to Schumer: “I would be honored to stay. I have cases that I would like to close. "After a few days, Schumer called again and said:" Donald Trump is happy that you want to stay. But he wants to meet you. "
And so it came about that on the morning of November 30, 2016, I drove up 5th Avenue in New York. I had two of my investigators with me. As we stepped into the Trump Tower lobby, I kept wondering what to expect from talking to Trump. I had no idea what it was going to be about.
So I walked purposefully past the cordon in the lobby, behind which journalists have been standing and waiting since the election. One of the press shouted to me: "Mr. Bharara, are you here to deliver a summons to Donald Trump?" A few laughed, we went wordlessly towards the elevator and pressed the up button.
A post-it and a phone number
When we got to the top, Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner were already waiting for me. Both were in a good mood and we made small talk. After 15 minutes, a friendly, warm-hearted Donald Trump entered the room. He shakes my hand and makes a remark that I've heard from him again and again afterwards.
He looks at me, then says to Bannon and Kushner: "The man gets better press than me!" Then he says to me: “I am sure that you have great offers from the private sector. But as a prosecutor you did your job well. "
He didn't say anything inappropriate, didn't want to talk about specific cases. We joked about his ups and downs with Chuck Schumer. At that time it was good again, but it should be going downhill again.
So we chat irrelevantly for 20 minutes, and at some point Trump says: "I've already talked to Jeff Sessions," at that time Sessions was in discussion as the future federal attorney general. “He's very happy to have you with us. Just like me, he considers you a tough and fair criminal prosecutor. "
During that time I was often asked: why are you staying if you reject Trump as president?
I said that I intend to do my job just as I have for the past seven and a half years: independent, apolitical, energetic, as the law and my oath require me to be. “I assume that you will ask me if I want to stay because you are okay with the way I have carried out my office so far. I feel honored that I can continue to play this role. "
During that time I was often asked: why are you staying if you reject Trump as president? The reason is simple: As a US prosecutor, you are only obliged to be loyal to the constitution and thus to the public.
You can't find a prosecutor to serve the president. He may like your job, but you are under no obligation to him. In particular, the prosecution in my South Manhattan district has historically had an extremely stubborn reputation.
That's why we even have a nickname. Instead of "the southern district" we are jokingly called "the sovereign district". We were never talked into it.
So even after visiting the Trump Tower, I had no indication that I had to defend my independence. If someone had given me a different impression at this meeting, I would have left immediately.
Donald Trump pushed a yellow post-it pad across the table. He asked me to write down my phone numbers.
But there was something strange that happened about this meeting. It should only have meaning in retrospect. In the middle of the conversation, Donald Trump pushed a yellow post-it pad across the table in my direction. He asked me to write down my phone numbers.
I looked around to see if that could be anything unusual, because basically a sworn president does not speak directly to prosecutors. But when no one responded, I wrote my office number and my cell phone number on the Post-it and gave it to Trump.
A few weeks later, it was December 12th: that day I had turned off my iPhone because I was on Rikers Island, the prison island, where there were allegations against guards of having used disproportionate force against inmates.
When I returned to the office, I was informed that the President-elect had called. When I heard that, I first thought: Maybe he changed his mind. I briefly discussed with my colleagues whether there were any reservations about recalling the President-elect. Since he was not yet in office, we saw no problems and I called back.
The phone calls
Do you want to know how many times Barack Obama called me? Never! So I wondered why the President-elect contacted me for the second time. In addition, at that time the debate was going on about Bill Clinton, who had been talking to Attorney General Loretta Lynch in the street.
The biggest critic of this contact was Trump himself. I wondered if he was aware that he was entering a similar position. Ultimately, with my area of responsibility in Manhattan, I was close to the private interests and business connections of the future president.
At the time, I told my father, a retired pediatrician who immigrated from India, that Trump had contacted me repeatedly. "I don't like him calling you, Preet, I don't like it at all," said my father.
During the transition from one administration to the other, each department has a coordination office that is responsible for the change. So I informed the Head of Coordination in the Justice Department about the phone call with the President before I called Trump back.
ÒÀÜI donòÀt like him calling you, Preet. I don't like it at all, "said my father.
The content of the call was then completely harmless. Nothing inappropriate or problematic was raised. Obviously the future President of the United States wanted to be friends with me.
I still hoped to hear nothing more from him.
January 18, 2017: It was the Wednesday before the inauguration ceremony. Once more I wasn't in the office when the call came. So the President-elect wants to speak to me again, and I couldn't explain it, because you'd think he was busy preparing for his inauguration.
Once again I checked with my deputies whether it was appropriate to return the call, and once again I informed the crossing point in the Department of Justice of the conversation. This time, too, the future president called me to chat.
He told me that governors from every state were calling him in the hope that he would finally open the federal money faucet. It wasn't a particularly focused or relevant conversation.
Strange that the president-elect should have days to gossip with the Manhattan attorney a few days before his inauguration.
Strange that the President-elect, the chief commander-in-chief and future leader of the free world, should have a few days to gossip with the Manhattan attorney before his inauguration. To the best of my knowledge, I was the only prosecutor he had this relationship with. Nobody but me got calls from Trump.
On March 9th, I received another call. I heard the message from the White House secretariat on my answering machine. Donald Trump was now President of the United States, and it is important to know that there were people at that time who were demanding that Trump's business conduct and interests be investigated. Whether or not these demands were justified is not the point. The point is: you were in the air.
Employees who receive a call from someone at the top of the food chain may prefer to call the boss back. But that's a problem in the judiciary. It's not just that we're actually maintaining independence. We must also avoid any outward appearance that our independence could be jeopardized. But it was also clear to me that this phone call might not only look bad for the prosecutor, but also for the president himself.
I found it most strange that he wanted to get himself into such a delicate position. I later realized that no one, not even the Attorney General, knew that Donald Trump was contacting me.
I didn't mean to be arrogant or rude. But I wanted to preserve the independence of our office.
I don't mean to say that with that phone call he wanted to tell me something that wasn't right. But the call itself was a legal problem. I didn't mean to be arrogant or rude. But I wanted to preserve the independence of our office.
The decision wasn't easy. In the Justice Department there are guidelines that were drawn up to minimize contact with the White House as much as possible. There is a very short list of names of people who are allowed to have contact with the White House at all. I don't like it.
And something else was pretty unusual: we briefly discussed whether we should record my phone conversation with the President of the United States. But then we thought: This is a shoe size too big for us.
We then considered whether a witness should be present when I call Trump back. We rejected that too. The most respectful thing I could do in the situation: politely decline a callback.
I called Jeff Sessions office and asked Jodie Hunt, the attorney general's chief of staff, "Do you agree with my decision not to call the president back?" She said: "Yes, I agree."
So I called the White House Secretariat and said, “With all due respect to the President, but taking into account the guidelines in force and after consulting the Justice Minister's Office, I do not think it is appropriate to speak directly to the President speak. "
Twenty hours later, I was asked to hand in my resignation.
Of course, I cannot say with absolute certainty whether the two events are related. The temporal coincidence is quite noticeable. On the Friday after Trump's call, I received a call from the Assistant Attorney General asking me, like all other prosecutors, to submit my formal resignation.
The President asked me to stay, so he should fire me himself now.
I probably sounded pretty complacent when I said, "Are you sure this applies to me too?" After all, Trump personally asked me to stay.
I just wanted to do everything correctly. The President had asked me to stay, so he should fire me himself now if he really wanted to. The next Monday, I went to my eighth-floor office, tuned on CNN, and waited to be released.
In the early afternoon I received a call from the Deputy Attorney General. He wanted to know why I hadn't sent a letter of resignation. I explained it to him again. "I'll call you back," he said. I had another lunch, prepared a farewell email for my staff and waited.
I don't know why it was taking so long or why someone made such a big deal out of firing me. I just wanted to hear from Trump that he no longer wanted me in office. The call came and I ate my sandwiches, hit "send" for the farewell email, packed my things and left the office.
People today want to know from me why I was fired. I do not know exactly. It's probably a collection of reasons. It could be that someone got mad because I didn't call back.
People today want to know from me why I was fired. I do not know exactly.
It may also be that I fell victim to the nonsensical theory that a "state within a state" under the secret leadership of Barack Obama is trying to oust President Trump. In this conspiracy theory, prosecutors play an important role.
The new government may also find it difficult to manage independently. It could have been a combination of all of these reasons.
I don't want to speculate, I just presented the facts. It's been a few months since I was released. It has since become known how President Trump attempted to dissuade FBI Director James Comey from an investigation in face-to-face meetings.
I am therefore convinced that President Trump, had he continued to have personal access to me, would at some point have asked me to do something that would not have been legal. Then at the latest I should have resigned. I cannot say that with absolute certainty. But I am strongly convinced of it.
This text is a transcript of a podcast by Preet Bahrara. With the kind permission of the author. Transcription and translation: Katharina Bracher.
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