March 11th, 2017

US-AttorneyGate: Bharara, the press, and the president

Andrew C. McCarthy explains the history of the most recent brouhaha, President Trump’s en masse firing of the US attorneys, and the reasons and history behind the move:

In March 1993, Janet Reno began her tenure as President Bill Clinton’s attorney general by summarily firing United States attorneys for 93 of the 94 federal districts (one, Michael Chertoff, was retained in New Jersey, at the request of Democratic Senator Bill Bradley). That is more than twice as many as Trump attorney general Jeff Sessions fired on Friday.

Indeed, there were only 46 Obama-appointed U.S. attorneys left for Sessions to relieve because Obama appointees fully understood that this is the way things work. Many of them had already moved on, in the expectation that the president elected in November would replace them — an expectation that became a virtual certainty once it was clear that this change of administrations would be a change of parties, and visions. I

…policy choices are the stuff of politics. They often weigh heavily in presidential campaigns and elections. Law-and-order issues intimately affect people’s lives. When presidents make promises about them, they must expect to be held accountable.

U.S. attorneys are the instruments through which the president exercises his policy discretion. That is why they are political appointees. They do not have power of their own. Under our Constitution, all executive power is reposed in the president alone. Every officer of the executive branch is thus a delegate. The U.S. attorney exercises the president’s power and can be removed at the president’s will.

It is only natural, then, that a president will want his power wielded by his own appointees, whom he trusts to carry out his policy program. And it thus follows that, when there is a transition between administrations that see the world, and the Justice Department’s role in it, as differently as the Obama and Trump administrations, there will be sweeping turnover, carried out rapidly.

I suggest you read the whole thing; it’s not long.

The MSM is treating this in an interesting manner, not atypical. If you just scan a bunch of headlines and don’t read the articles past the first paragraph (as I initially did when the story broke) you might get the impression that something extremely unusual has occurred with these firings. If you read the actual pieces, however, a bit further down in the stories you can find sentences such as this from the Times (headline: “Trump Abruptly Orders 46 Obama-Era Prosecutors to Resign”):

It is not unusual for a new president to replace United States attorneys appointed by a predecessor, especially when there has been a change in which party controls the White House.

Still, other presidents have done it gradually in order to minimize disruption, giving those asked to resign more time to make the transition while keeping some inherited prosecutors in place, as it had appeared Mr. Trump would do with Mr. Bharara. Mr. Obama, for example, kept Mr. Rosenstein, who had been appointed by George W. Bush.

The abrupt mass firing appeared to be a change in plans for the administration, according to a statement by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

And this from CNN, paragraph #4 (in an article entitled “Anger mounts over handling of US attorney firings”):

A Justice Department spokeswoman explained that forced resignations are a matter of course when turning the agency over to a new administration.

So the problem appears to be that the people involved, and their fellow-Democrats, don’t think they were given enough notice.

Nearly every Obama-appointed US attorney had to have known his/her days are numbered. The sole exception would be those who were told they could stay on for the duration. It’s not clear whether Preet Bharara, US Attorney for the southern district of New York, was told that he would be staying indefinitely, but it seems clear he was told he would be staying on at least for a while.

Not only that, but it seems that Preet would be a good guy to keep on. The usually Trump-friendly NY Post has criticized the firing of Bahara, and I’d say rightly so:

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.

If Bharara hadn’t been included in the mass firing, it also would have deprived the MSM of their most potent weapon in their criticism of the US attorneys’ firings, although it wouldn’t have stopped the criticism.

Bharara fought back:

The high-profile US attorney for Manhattan, Preet Bharara, has indicated he will not submit a letter of resignation as requested by the Trump administration Friday — placing the President in the position of having to fire him in a public standoff, sources tell CNN.

Bharara, who had been told after a meeting with the President-elect in November that he would stay on, felt blindsided by the move, the sources said.

Then there’s this paragraph:

The President-elect asked Bharara to continue as US attorney at the behest of New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, who made the request when he and Trump were discussing how they could work together.

As is often the case these days, it’s difficult if not impossible to figure out the truth on the motives for the Bharara firing from reading the press. Is this a way to get back at Schumer? Is it a case of carelessness? Is it just a way to make a statement that a clean sweep is needed? Or has Bharara himself done something to give Trump pause?

Right after writing those words, I noticed that the showdown predicted in that CNN article had just happened. A few moments ago it was announced that Bharara had been fired by Trump.

I repeat: why? We don’t know. We do learn this, which touches on the answer to one question about which I was curious (that is, did Trump originally say he could stay indefinitely, or just for a while, during that earlier meeting?)

After Trump won the presidency, he met in late November with Bharara. The meeting came about, according to people familiar with the matter, after Mr. Trump called Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and congratulated him on becoming the leader of the Senate Democrats. In that conversation, Trump brought up Bharara, and said he was thinking of keeping him in his job, these people said. Schumer praised Bharara and Trump then arranged a meeting with Bharara at Trump Tower.

During the conversation, Trump told Bharara to call Sessions, his nominee for attorney general, who also asked Bharara to stay.

When Bharara was leaving, according to one person familiar with the meeting, he asked the president-elect what he should tell the reporters in the lobby. Trump told Bharara to tell them he was staying on, this person said.

In other words, we don’t know.

Trump is famous for telling people “You’re fired!”. But I agree with Jazz Shaw that this particular firing seems to make little sense, and appears to be “a major, unforced error”:

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.)

Yes, of course Trump can do this. But it seems a stupid and shortsighted thing to do as well as a possibly ominous exercise in power for its own sake. I’ll be willing to revise that last sentence if I come across some explanation that makes sense to me.

23 Responses to “US-AttorneyGate: Bharara, the press, and the president”

  1. Griffin Says:

    Don’t know if this is a good move or not but it may be a sign that they have finally got it that all of these Obama appointees need to go. May end up losing some good ones but sadly that is the way this has played out.

    Does staying on mean for the long run or just for the time being? Could have been a ‘hey. stay on til we get up and running’ then we will reevaluate and now they have.

    Or it could be a screwup, who knows.

  2. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    I don’t know either but anyone who Schumer praises is suspect in my eyes. I have read that Bharara has persecuted NYC corruption but I wonder, given Schumer’s praise… if it hasn’t just been “low hanging fruit” with a blind eye turned to politically important personages. And while Bharara’s investigation into charges of Blasio administration corruption argues against that possibility, that investigation first came to my attention in the spring of 2014… and after nearly three years I have yet to read of any indictments…

    So I suspect that Trump hoped for cooperation from Schumer and offered to keep on Bharara as a reward for that cooperation. Now that Schumer has thrown down the political gauntlet, Trump has no reason to keep on a man who Schumer favors.

  3. Ymarsakar Says:

    To GB concerning a previous topic, whether the Leftists and their fellow travelers will be forgiven based on their (willful) ignorance and refusal to be held accountable to their own actions and beliefs:

    https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+12:9-11&version=KJV

    As for the Hussein regime and Trum, Trum would be suicidal not to purge DC of as much Leftists and Hussein appointees as he can. Replacing them with Clan loyalists will be a somewhat more difficult proposition.

    So the problem appears to be that the people involved, and their fellow-Democrats, don’t think they were given enough notice.

    They are not guilty. They did something of their own free will, to put themselves in a situation they know very well is such and such. And they can complain and excuse themselves, as others have here concerning Democrats, that the Democrats “didn’t know” or “weren’t aware” but that is willful ignorance. They choose to be ignorant, they were given plenty of proof and time and advice.

    Does this qualify as blaspheming against the Holy Spirit and their own conscience? Assuming they have a conscience, yes.

    To give a little bit of context and backstory for why Luke brings up this rather cryptic subtext. Peter and other Apostles had denied their Savior under some public pretexts, such as fear of being hanged or jailed. After the resurrection and crucifixion of their Savior, Mentor, and Leader, they were given the Holy Ghost and thus transformed. Peter, who denied his mentor three times in public equivalent to a divorce in Japan ancient style, had to be reinstated. Peter even said he would follow Jesus no matter where, and then he denied them because like a human, he was weak and incapable of following through on the Will, when faced with the fears of the world and the powers of the world. Later on he got crucified upside down, by his own recommendation, because of his past behavior in part.

    They, like we, wondered what would happen to a human who denied the Christ, after knowing the Gospel. Peter and other Apostles who had fallen into this error, would be most interested in what their promised future would be. But they did not understand why if that could be forgiven, why violating the Holy Spirit would not be forgiven. That, also, is something moderns and normals do not comprehend, since it would require the theological definition of the Holy Ghost/Holy Spirit which Christians have been fighting and enslaving each other for centuries over (the Trinity).

  4. Ymarsakar Says:

    Correction, their fellows and Democrats, believe they are not guilty. I believe they are guilty of course.

  5. y81 Says:

    I’m inclined to agree with Geoffrey Britain. Trump probably thought he might keep Bharara as part of a cooperative relationship with Schumer, but when Schumer abandoned that, Trump changed his mind, as is his prerogative. I don’t understand how the article neo quoted can say that Bharara doesn’t have any friends in the political establishment, given his relationship with Schumer.

    Politics is about rewarding your friends and punishing your enemies, so what Trump has done isn’t an unforced error, it’s the essence of the project on which he has embarked.

  6. Yancey Ward Says:

    After Bharara refused to submit the letter of resignation, firing is the only option.

    In my opinion, it is a professional necessity to submit such letters the moment a new president takes office, not wait to be asked.

    I do think, however, that Bharara was asked to stay on as a gesture of conciliation to Schumer, who didn’t waste a single moment before spitting in Trump’s face.

    Considering how things have played out, I say good riddance to Bharara.

  7. Yankee Says:

    Let’s not forget that Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie also got their start as prosecutors and U.S. Attorneys. So Preet Bharara may have political ambitions, and in such a liberal state as New York, it may suit his longer-term goals to set things up so that he gets fired by Trump. That way, he may be able to appeal to other voters later on.

    Personal ambition may be a factor in this case.

  8. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Ymarsakar,

    I cannot say at precisely what point willful ignorance/denial becomes culpable. I only know that such a point exists. I’m confident that God knows where that point lies and has perfect judgement as to where justice and mercy meet.

  9. AesopFan Says:

    Geoffrey Britain Says:
    March 11th, 2017 at 4:24 pm
    So I suspect that Trump hoped for cooperation from Schumer and offered to keep on Bharara as a reward for that cooperation. Now that Schumer has thrown down the political gauntlet, Trump has no reason to keep on a man who Schumer favors.

    Geoffrey Britain Says:
    March 11th, 2017 at 7:16 pm
    Ymarsakar,

    I cannot say at precisely what point willful ignorance/denial becomes culpable. I only know that such a point exists. I’m confident that God knows where that point lies and has perfect judgement as to where justice and mercy meet.

    * * *
    Agreed and amen.

  10. Cap'n Rusty Says:

    From WSJ, March 10, 2017:

    Wall Street holy warrior Preet Bharara may finally answer for abuses of his prosecutorial power. On Thursday a federal district court ruled that a lawsuit alleging that the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York violated the civil and constitutional rights of former hedge-fund manager David Ganek can proceed to discovery and trial. Hear, hear.

    This fiasco began in 2010 when the Federal Bureau of Investigation publicly raided Mr. Ganek’s Level Global for insider trading, and Mr. Ganek was forced to liquidate the fund amid the damage to his reputation. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has since overturned the conviction of the Level Global portfolio manager who had been found guilty, noting there was “no evidence” he committed securities fraud, and the Securities and Exchange Commission is disgorging penalties.

    Mr. Ganek was never charged, even under the theory of insider trading that the Second Circuit tossed, and the FBI affidavit to support the Level Global search contained false and perhaps deliberately fabricated claims about his personal involvement. He says in his suit against Mr. Bharara that FBI agents deprived him of due process.

    This is a major development in the case that we first wrote about last year (“Preet Bharara’s Methods”). Prosecutors and law enforcement enjoy qualified immunity that shields government officials from being sued for all but the most egregious violations of legal rights.

    Yet New York Judge William Pauley rejected the government’s motion to dismiss. “Discovery is now appropriate to ascertain whether this is a case about a simple misunderstanding or whether something more troubling was afoot,” he writes, referring to the question of how and why the false allegations that destroyed Level Global entered the warrant.

    Mr. Bharara’s media image is the Elliot Ness of Wall Street. Now we may learn if he has his own house in order.

    But wait! There’s more! GatewayPundit says:

    Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney who was fired today was also the attorney who brought charges against conservative activist and author, Dinesh D’Souza back in 2014. D’Souza was sentenced to 5 years probation and 8 months in a community confinement center.

    Dinesh D’Souza faced political persecution after he directed and released anti-Obama film, “2016: Obama’s America”. He was indicted over illegal campaign contributions. It was an obvious witch hunt

  11. J.J. Says:

    I suspect that the federal attorneys are being chosen (And two who resigned have been retained) on their attitudes toward law enforcement, especially the enforcement of immigration laws.

    Don’t know where Bharara is on the issue, but if he and Schumer are pals, it wouldn’t surprise me if he isn’t in favor of loose border enforcement. Just a guess.

  12. Zigzag Says:

    Yankee: May have? May have? Does a bear shit in the woods?

    WTF else does anyone angle to become US District Attorney for the Southern District of New York? It’s one of the most highly desirable Praetorships in our current day Cursus (Dis)Honorum.

  13. Irene Says:

    @Cap’n Rusty

    Did you see what Dinesh tweeted?’

    “GOOD RIDDANCE DEPT: Obama capo @PreetBharara is a familiar Indian type, subservient to those above him but ruthless with those in his power”

    I’ll take Dinesh over Preet any day of the week.

  14. Irene Says:

    @Cap’n Rusty

    “D’Souza was sentenced to 5 years probation and 8 months in a community confinement center.”

    I would just add to your excellent post that D’Souza also was fined $30,000 and forced to undergo psychiatric evaluation, etc. Judge was a real lefty. Both Preet and Judge were frigging Stalinists.

  15. parker Says:

    POTUS has the authority to wipe the slate clean. BFD. New broom sweaps. Nothing unusual involved.

  16. Sonny Wayze Says:

    Preet was also the guywho subpoened Reason Magazine to find the IRL identities of users for writing such obvious ‘threats’ as “there’s a special place in Hell for [Preet’s friend]”.

    http://reason.com/blog/2017/03/11/overreaching-us-attorney-who-subpoened-r

    Good riddance.

  17. AesopFan Says:

    Cap’n Rusty Says:
    March 11th, 2017 at 11:06 pm
    and others who have validated the MO “wait three days on every story to get the bigger picture” —

    I remembered the D’Souza debacle but not that Bharara was the DA in charge. This reminds me of all the sources that trumpeted (ahem) Comey’s “independence” and “integrity” – until they didn’t anymore, because he manifestly wasn’t what they claimed.

    New additions from http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2017/03/memo-to-jeff-sessions-its-time-to-clean-house.php
    “Bharara typifies the highly partisan nature of Barack Obama’s Department of Justice, but his publicity stunt was mostly just annoying. Far more serious is the deep corruption that Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch introduced into DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. Via InstaPundit, Chris Adams reports on yet another case in which federal judges have blasted unethical or illegal conduct on the part of Civil Rights Division lawyers. See the original for links:”

    And this isn’t the first time DOJ lawyers have been lambasted by a judge for unprofessional conduct.

  18. Karen Says:

    It’s an interesting set of circumstances. It smells like something that is going to develop into more. Only time will tell.

    I suggest that it may tie in with Mike Flynn’s registering as a foreign agent and with Trump protecting his assets, which include VP Pence.

    http://www.palmerreport.com/politics/marc-mukasey-preet-bharara-donald-trump-fox-news/1889/

  19. Frog Says:

    BFD.
    Bharara was kept on, only less long than he (Bharara) expected. He also did not as is customary tender his resignation on request, so he was rightly fired.

    Bharara doesn’t do investigations. The investigations under way will continue by the underlings. The job of the US Attorney is to direct his staff, and Bharara directed them against prominent NY State politicians. Does that make him noble or something? No; it just shows his power.
    Sessions will choose a replacement. That is fine. It is the way it is supposed to be done. It may be that the new US Attorney will really go after NYState Democratic politicians. Fine by me.

  20. blert Says:

    The Clinton Crime Family is ensconced in New York state.

    Preet was never going to touch them.

  21. blert Says:

    The last stand of the 46 Ronin… didn’t last long.

  22. Mike Perry Says:

    Keep in mind the importance of maintaining an image. Public figures benefit when their actions are seen as reinforcing that image, however nastily their foes may try to spin their actions.

    Trump ran as someone who gets things done by firing people. Those who voted for him for that reason will like this move. Those who’re opposed to him aren’t going to change because he did yet another thing they dislike.

    Keep in mind another benefit Trump has in the political arena. Behavior that his critics claim demonstrate he’s a loose cannon, most of those he must deal with will regard as intimidating. “If I don’t bend a bit more in his favor,” they think, “he may suddenly flip and move strongly against me.”

    Trump used that successfully in business. He’s now using it in politics. Getting other NATO countries to spend more on defense illustrates that. For decades our presidents have tried to get Europeans to do that and for decades they’ve stalled because they knew the U.S. would not draw back from their defense. But with Trump, they can’t be quite certain what he might do.

  23. Greyone Says:

    It is worth noting that after the request for resignations, President Trump placed a call to Bharara, and Bharara refused to talkk to the President, citing “DOJ rules”.

    One might speculate that Trump was calling to advise him to be calm, that his resignation was one that would not be accepted.

    Since PB refused to talk to the President, and then refused to tender his resignation, clearly he wanted to be fired, to become a martyr in furtherance of his political goals.

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