White House calls US prosecutor Preet Bharara's firing 'standard operating procedure'

The White House has defended the firing of high-profile India-born prosecutor Preet Bharara and seeking of resignation of 45 other attorneys, saying this was 'standard operating procedure'.

PTI March 14, 2017 11:48:55 IST
White House calls US prosecutor Preet Bharara's firing 'standard operating procedure'

Washington: The White House has defended the firing of high-profile India-born prosecutor Preet Bharara and seeking of resignation of 45 other attorneys who were appointed by the previous administration, saying this was "standard operating procedure".

"This is a standard operating procedure for a new administration around this time to ask for the resignation of all the US attorneys," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters at his daily news conference.

White House calls US prosecutor Preet Bhararas firing standard operating procedure

White House spokesman Sean Spicer. Reuters

He made the remarks while responding to questions on firing of Bharara after he refused to resign following the Department of Justice's order asking him and 45 other attorneys, who were appointed by former President Barack Obama, to quit.

"We had most of them — or a good chunk of them had already submitted their resignation letters. This is just the final swath of individuals who had not at this time. But this is a common practice of most administrations," Spicer argued.

He said President Trump had wanted to call Bharara to thank him for his service.

"The President was calling to thank him for his service. This is, a standard action that takes place in most administrations," he said.

"Then-Attorney General Reno sent out an almost identical letter in 1993. The Bush administration sent out a similar one, as well. So this is a very common practice for all political appointees — not just in the Department of Justice — but throughout government when there's a turnover administration to ask for all individuals to do that," he said.

Bharara, 48, who was the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, left his office on Monday. He got an emotional farewell from his colleagues.

"I love New York. This is the best prosecutor's office you've ever seen," he said.

Meanwhile, a media report said that Bharara was fired because he was conducting a probe of Fox News channel and whether the Rupert Murdoch-owned company hid from its investors, payments it made to employees who alleged sexual assault. The allegation was denied by the White House.

"The commonality and the uniformity of the resignations is the key here," White House Counselor Kellylanne Conway said.

"This is just not a news story, it's a lot of noise, not much news because it's very uniform and it's very common for presidents to ask for the resignations of political appointees like ambassadors and like US attorneys, the past few presidents have done this," she told Fox News.

"We made it uniform, the President made it uniform so that there were no carve-outs, there was no special treatment. The only two people who are kind of exempted, if you will, are people who are having a different role in the administration, Mr Rosenstein and Dana, who's the acting deputy attorney general. But other than that, it's uniform across the board," Conway argued.

Meanwhile, a New York Times editorial titled 'Preet Bharara: A Prosecutor Who Knew How to Drain a Swamp' said the Barack Obama appointee quickly went after New York's "rancid
political culture."

Talking about the culture prevailing in New York when Bharara took office, the daily said politicians of both parties have long treated anti-graft laws like "suggestions and ethics rules like Play-Doh," a reference to the modelling compound used by children that can be moulded into makes different shapes and patterns.

The editorial said most Americans may never have heard of Bharara till he took centre stage in the drama over the Trump administration's Friday order demanding the resignations of 46
US attorneys.

"But New Yorkers, who have had a front-row seat to his work over the last seven years, know him for his efforts to drain one of the swampiest states in the country of its rampant public corruption," it said.

The editorial said it may be while before the full story behind Bharara's firing comes out but in the meantime, Bharara "deserves credit for leaving New York a little cleaner than he found it".

The report also said that it has been reported that Bharara's office is investigating whether Fox News, "essentially the propaganda arm of the White House," failed to properly alert its shareholders about settlements with employees who accused the channel's former boss of sexual harassment.

The editorial noted the convictions Bharara won of more than a dozen lawmakers, including two of the state's three most powerful politicians Democratic former Assembly speaker

Sheldon Silver and Republican former Senate majority leader Dean Skelos on charges of bribery, extortion and money laundering.

It described Bharara as an "equal-opportunity prosecutor", citing one of the first cases as US attorney for the Southern District of New York that involved bank-fraud charges against a top Democratic donor, Hassan Nemazee, who had ties to Senator Chuck Schumer.

Bharara had worked for Schumer as chief counsel and it was Schumer who had asked Obama to hire Bharara.

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