Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos that there may be a connection between the dismissal of former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara and investigations into President Donald Trump.
As U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York (SDNY), all of New York City fell within Bharara’s jurisdiction, leaving him with a sweeping investigative and prosecutorial portfolio. Many of President Trump’s sprawling business interests are based in SDNY, under the watchful eye of a (now former) U.S. attorney whose political aspirations are nearly as famous as his high-profile prosecutions.
Cummings conceded that the president has the prerogative to dismiss U.S. attorneys at will, before noting that President Trump initially asked Bharara to stay on as U.S. attorney during the transition.
“I’m just curious as to why that is, and certainly there’s a lot of questions coming up as to whether … President Trump is concerned about the jurisdiction of this U.S. attorney and whether that might affect his future,” he said. “You look at everything surrounding the investigations, there are a lot of questions that need to be asked, but again, the president does have that prerogative.”
Trump did in fact ask Bharara to stay his post during the transition, though it was never clear how long he would remain in office. What’s more, administration officials say the decision was made as a gesture of good will towards Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who mentored Bharara when he was the senator’s chief counsel. Since Trump took office, Schumer has expressed little interest in working with the new president.
Though Cummings offered no evidence to corroborate the allegation, journalists and other members of Congress have raised similar questions since the administration asked for the resignations of 46 Obama-era U.S. attorneys on Friday. Axios AM, a morning newsletter widely circulated in Washington, reports that some inside the Beltway believe the DOJ purge — a power play in its own right — was all about Bharara in the first place.
The New York Times reported on Saturday that President Trump attempted to schedule a call with Bharara late Thursday. Bharara then called Jody Hunt, chief of staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, to express concerns about the call. It is generally considered a breach of protocol for the president to speak with federal prosecutors, and contacts between the White House and the Justice Department are typically limited to a handful of senior officials.
The call between Bharara and Trump never took place, and the subject of their proposed discussion remains unknown.
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