Top U.S. prosecutor Bharara is fired after refusing to quit

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By Mark Hosenball and Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of New York said on Saturday he had been fired after he defied a Justice Department request to resign as the Trump administration cleared out federal prosecutors who served under former President Barack Obama.

“I did not resign. Moments ago I was fired,” Bharara wrote on Twitter.

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The Justice Department declined to comment.

Bharara, whose jurisdiction as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York included Manhattan, has handled a string of high-profile corruption and white-collar criminal cases. He was one of 46 Obama administration holdovers who were asked to resign by the Justice Department on Friday.

Like all of the nation’s 93 U.S. attorneys, Bharara is a political appointee who is typically replaced when a new president takes office.

Bharara told reporters in November that Trump had asked him to stay on, and a source familiar with the situation told Reuters that he was confused by the Justice Department’s request that he step down.

Bharara’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to replace so many sitting attorneys at once has raised questions about whether that would hinder the Trump administration’s ability to enforce the nation’s laws. Career attorneys will carry on that work until new U.S. attorneys are put in place, the Justice Department said.

Bharara’s Manhattan office, which also has jurisdiction over the New York City borough of the Bronx, neighboring Westchester County and some other counties in the state, handles some of the most critical business and criminal cases passing through the federal judicial system. He has been overseeing a probe into New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s fundraising.

“Being the US Attorney in SDNY will forever be the greatest honor of my professional life,” Bharara wrote on Twitter.

After he was appointed by Obama in 2009, Bharara built a reputation as an aggressive prosecutor who was not afraid to take on complex cases.

He won a $1.8 billion insider-trading settlement against SAC Capital Advisors, the largest in history, which forced the hedge fund to shut down, and he forced JPMorgan Chase to pay $1.7 billion to settle charges related to its role in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme.

Bharara won a lifetime sentence against the Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, and a 25-year sentence for international arms dealer Viktor Bout. He has successfully prosecuted state and local politicians for corruption, including former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Trump has asked two U.S. prosecutors to remain on the job, according to the Justice Department.

U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein of Maryland has been asked to stay on as the Senate considers his nomination to serve as the No. 2 Justice Department official, and U.S. Attorney Dana Boente of Virginia, who is temporarily serving in that position, has also been asked to remain.

A White House spokeswoman said she did not know whether other U.S. attorneys would be asked to remain in office.

(Additional reporting by Emily Stephenson; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Diane Craft and Leslie Adler)