NEW YORK (AP) — Fired U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara took plenty of shots — some funny, some purposely not — at Republican President Donald Trump on Thursday as he made his first public speech since being forced from his job last month.
The former prosecutor for the Southern District of New York drew laughter when he told a packed house at The Cooper Union college that he insisted on being fired when top federal prosecutors appointed by other presidents were asked to resign because he “thought that’s what Donald Trump was good at.”
The quip, a reference to Trump’s longtime role on “The Apprentice” reality TV show, was among several humorous jabs at the president, who initially asked him to stay on, only to later let him go.
In more serious moments, Bharara addressed his surprise at being forced from the job he had held for seven years, saying he “had this meeting with some fanfare at Trump Tower in which the president-elect asked me to stay on another term.” He said Trump was “very explicit about it” at the November meeting.
He said Trump then “asked me to tell the world and the press corps downstairs that he wanted me to stay on for another term.”
When prosecutors across the country were asked to resign in early March, the list included Bharara, who a decade ago investigated whether federal prosecutors were fired for political reasons and concluded they were.
Bharara, saying “I’ve been around the block a few times and I’ve seen some things that have happened before,” said he knew he wanted to insist on being fired.
“I wanted the record to reflect for all time that there was a deliberate decision, not just a bureaucratic sort of nonspecific sweeping away of what’s been there in the past, but a specific decision to change one’s mind and deliberately fire me, particularly given what my office’s jurisdiction is and where my office is situated,” he said.
The Southern District of New York region includes Manhattan, where Trump Tower is located.
Bharara said his former office had a long history of independence from political influence. He noted that former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, his former boss, had launched an investigation against Democratic President Bill Clinton, who had appointed her.
Bharara, who began a job this week at New York University Law School, said more could be learned about his firing by reading an article about an interview with him released online Thursday by The New York Times.
He told the Times his firing was “a direct example of the kind of uncertain helter-skelter incompetence, when it comes to personnel decisions and executive actions, that was in people’s minds when this out-of-the-blue call for everyone’s resignation letter came.”
The newspaper said Bharara also disclosed that Trump telephoned him three times after asking him to stay on the job, leaving Bharara and his aides to weigh whether the calls violate Department of Justice protocols pertaining to communications with a president.
U.S. attorneys are federal prosecutors who are nominated by the president, generally upon the recommendation of a home-state senator, and are responsible for prosecuting federal crimes in the territories they oversee. They report to Department of Justice leadership in Washington, and their priorities are expected to be in line with those of the attorney general.
Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, asked more than 40 prosecutors who served under Democratic former President Barack Obama to step down. Sessions took a veiled swipe at their work, saying prosecutions for violent crime have been on the decline even as the number of murders has gone up.