WASHINGTON ― Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, questioned on Sunday President Donald Trump’s motives in firing U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, suggesting that he might have been acting in his own self-interest to stop a potential corruption investigation.
On Friday, the Trump administration asked 46 U.S. attorneys appointed by former President Barack Obama to resign. While it’s not unusual for presidents to put their own people in these positions, it’s normally not quite so abrupt and sudden.
I did not resign. Moments ago I was fired. Being the US Attorney in SDNY will forever be the greatest honor of my professional life.
— Preet Bharara (@PreetBharara) March 11, 2017
The dismissal of Bharara, who represents the powerful southern district of New York, was especially surprising, however, because in November, Trump had said he would like him to stay on.
Bharara refused to submit his resignation and was therefore fired on Saturday.
“Just not very long ago, the president was saying that he was going to keep the U.S. attorney there in New York. And then, suddenly, he’s, I guess, changed his mind. I’m just curious as to why that is,” Cummings said. “And certainly, there’s a lot of questions coming up as to whether Mr. Trump is – President Trump is concerned about the jurisdiction of this U.S. attorney and whether that might affect his future.”
A group of ethics watchdogs sent Bharara a letter recently, asking him to investigate whether Trump’s conflicts of interest:
Democracy 21, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and the Campaign Legal Center request that you undertake an investigation to determine if the Trump Organization LLC, the Trump Organization, Inc., and any related Trump businesses based in the Southern District of New York are receiving payments and financial benefits from foreign governments that benefit President Donald Trump and that do not comply with Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution, the “Foreign Emoluments Clause.”
Cummings confirmed Sunday that he believed there could be a connection between this call for an investigation and Trump’s decision to get rid of Bharara, who is known as an aggressive prosecutor.
“When they asked about emoluments clause and possible violations of it and the U.S. attorney’s relationship to that, I think perhaps that had perhaps something to do with it,” Cummings said.
Bharara received a call from Trump’s assistant Thursday, which he reported to the Justice Department because there are protocols in place about the contact a U.S. attorney can have with the president. He also told Trump’s assistant it would be inappropriate for him to speak directly with the president. It’s not clear if the call Thursday was about the dismissal or another matter.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) also suggested on Twitter that there were political reasons for Trump’s removal of Bharara.
Preet Bharara had authority over Trump Tower. @realDonaldTrump called him directly, breaching protocol. 24 hrs later he was asked to resign.
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) March 12, 2017
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