Trump Administration Claims That Pre-Firing Call to Preet Bharara Was Totally Friendly

Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

As has now been widely reported, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara was fired on Saturday after refusing the Trump administration’s Friday order to resign along with 45 other Obama-era federal prosecutors. It’s typical for a new administration to replace its predecessor’s appointees, but Bharara’s dismissal came as something of a surprise because President Trump had personally told Bharara he could keep his job back in November. Amid speculation that Bharara’s firing was related to his investigations, the White House (sort of) addressed one aspect of the intrigue: a “mysterious” phone call a Trump aide made to the high-profile prosecutor the day before he was instructed to quit.

According to various accounts, the assistant left Bharara a voice-mail on Thursday asking that he call Trump. Bharara reportedly decided against returning the call, citing rules about communication between U.S. attorneys and the president. He then informed Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s office, as well as Trump’s, that he would not be calling back.

On Sunday night, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed that Trump’s call was intended to be a friendly gesture. “The president reached out to Preet Bharara on Thursday to thank him for his service and wish him good luck,” Sanders told the New York Times. She declined to say anything else about the causes or execution of Bharara’s firing.

Bharara suggested that he didn’t buy the White House’s explanation for the call, particularly given the conversation he had with Sessions’s chief-of-staff Joseph Hunt about the situation. “Mr. Hunt was direct and clear in our conversation that, given written White House contacts policy, my position as a sitting U.S. attorney, and my office’s jurisdiction, it would be improper for me to speak directly to the sitting president without knowing the subject matter,” said Bharara. “Some might find that inconsistent with what is for the first time, three days later being described as a well-wishes call.” Regardless of what, exactly, Trump planned to say to Bharara, this certainly wouldn’t be the first time this president ignored protocols or did something unusual with his phone.

White House Claims Pre-Firing Call to Bharara Was Friendly