New York's prosecutor Preet Bharara fired after refusing Donald Trump's order to resign

Harriet Alexander
Preet Bharara was asked to resign on Friday

One of America’s most high-profile prosecutors has been fired after refusing an order from the attorney general to resign.

Preet Bharara, the 48-year-old US attorney for the southern district of New York, has made a name for himself taking on Wall Street corruption, terrorism and political malfeasance – famously sending to prison both the Democrat speaker and the Republican majority leader of New York state.

He is currently investigating the mayor of New York over allegations of campaign finance irregularities, and trying aides of Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, on charges of bribery.

Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, issued an order late on Friday night that all 46 Obama-appointed prosecutors resign, with reports that many were told to clear their desks by midnight. 

Mr Bharara refused to resign, and so on Saturday afternoon was fired.

He described his job as being "the greatest honor of my life".

It is not unusual for a new president to order the resignation of previous appointees – however, many have expressed surprise at the brusqueness of the order.

Some of the prosecutors were travelling on business and unaware of their fate.

Bill Clinton asked for the resignation of all 93 attorneys, but he did not immediately order them from their offices. Barack Obama kept on some of George W Bush’s prosecutors, including Rod Rosenstein, who is currently being vetted to act as Mr Sessions’s deputy. Those who left were allowed to remain in their role until a successor was found.

On Friday night many of the attorneys – Brooklyn, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Minnesota and Montana – had submitted their resignations. 

Eyebrows were raised at the timing: the previous evening Sean Hannity, a strident supporter of Mr Trump, had used his Fox News show to call for a “purge” of “deep-state” Obama loyalists.

Mike Cotter, attorney for Montana, said he received a phone call from Dana Boente, acting deputy attorney general, telling him "the president has directed this."

"I think it's very unprofessional and I'm very disappointed," he said. "What happened today on Friday, March 10, that was so important that all Obama appointees who are US attorneys need to be gone?

"I’ve got to write that resignation letter. It's going to be a one-liner." 

But Mr Bharara refused to go quietly.

Shortly after the election he met with Mr Trump and emerged from the meeting to say that the president-elect and Mr Sessions had asked him to stay in his role.

“The president-elect asked — presumably because he’s a New Yorker and is aware of the great work that our office has done over the past seven years — asked to meet with me to discuss whether or not I’d be prepared to stay on as the United States attorney to do the work we have done, independently, without fear or favour,” he told reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower.

Mr Bharara said that he had already spoken to Mr Sessions, whom at that point had been nominated for attorney general.

“He also asked that I stay on, and so I expect that I will be continuing to work at the southern district.”

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