The United States Attorney for Manhattan, Preet Bharara, appears to believe that he is working for a different branch of government. After Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked for the resignations of all U.S. Attorneys, a standard change of political appointees in a new Administration, Bharara reportedly indicated that President Donald Trump would have to fire him. Just as with the bizarre conduct of Sally Yates as Acting Attorney General, Bharara has shown a curious understanding of this position and his obligations as a federal officer. If these media reports are true, President Trump should immediately accommodate him and Bharara will have to explain to future employers how he justifies such an unfounded stance. [Update: Bharara has been fired]
I sincerely hope that the reports are not true or that Bharara quickly reconsiders and gets his letter of resignation in today. This is not the way to close a successful career as U.S. Attorney. In the end, I am not sure what the basis for refusing a letter of resignation is. Bharara seems a rebel without a cause.
New Administrations (particularly with a change of party) often demand such resignations — though many political appointees do not wait to be asked. Of the 93 U.S. attorneys, 46 were appointed by President Obama. There are career deputies who take over during the interim in these offices. The decision to ask for resignations depends on the president. Bill Clinton did so (including asking Jeff Sessions to resign) while George W. Bush gradually replaced U.S. Attorneys.
Ironically, presidents will sometimes ask for global resignations from political appointees only to decline to accept some on an individual basis. Bharara’s action guaranteed that he would not be one of them. US Attorneys Dana Boente and Rod Rosenstein did submit their letters and appear to have to told that the president has decline to accept their resignations. We will never know of Bharar might have been on that short list because he placed himself on an even shorter list in refusing to resign.
Bharara reportedly felt blindsided by the move and earlier spoke to Trump at Trump Tower. He said that Trump directed Bharara to go out to the cameras and tell them, “I asked you to stay.” Ok, even that is true, what professional standard is Bharara relying on for this obstructive position? Bharara has no claim to this political position or right to demand to remain in the position. According to news reports, Bharara indicated that Sen. Chuck Schumer wanted him to continue and the President agreed. Again, that does not change the fact that he serves at the pleasure of the president.
The Washington Post reported that Bharara first asked for clarification if the demand for resignations applied to him. However, other media outlets like Jake Tapper at CNN are reporting that he refused to submit the letter.
If true, the demand to be fired would be astonishingly unprofessional and frankly juvenile for a high-ranking prosecutor. Bharara has assembled an impressive record as U.S. Attorney and he would tarnish both that record and his office with this position. He should be fired without delay if indeed he has refused and I would hope that such a position would weigh heavily in any future consideration for public office or appointment.