True to his brash style, the man dubbed "the Sherriff of Wall Street" declined to offer his resignation
Bharara's high-profile cases caught the eye of the lionizing New York media
Preet Bharara has reached that lofty pantheon of fame where it seems everyone knows him by just his first name.
The rock star prosecutor and scourge of Wall Street corruption, gangs, terrorists and cyber criminals – and the most high profile US Attorney in the nation – said he was fired by President Donald Trump on Saturday.
He was never going to go quietly.
True to his brash style, the man dubbed “the Sheriff of Wall Street” declined to offer his resignation as US attorney for the Southern District of New York — the most celebrated prosecutorial shop in the country — following a request by the Trump administration.
In keeping with an innovative personality that shook up the sometimes stuffy world of the law, the crusading prosecutor, 48, announced his exit on Twitter.
“I did not resign. Moments ago I was fired,” he wrote after a standoff with the administration, which is purging politically appointed Obama administration attorneys.
After being nominated by President Barack Obama in 2009, Bharara quickly carved out a reputation for sniffing out huge, intricate financial frauds, often at hedge funds or giant Wall Street firms.
His office racked up nearly $500 million in settlements, including against Deutsche Bank and CitiMortgage for faulty lending practices. He targeted cyber hacking groups LulzSec and Anonymous, according to his profile on the Southern District’s website.
Bharara’s team of hard-driving prosecutors also went after international narcotics traffickers, corruption in local and state government, including in Albany, and took down gang kingpins and mobsters in the Bronx, Yonkers and other areas. His office extradited and sent to jail arms trafficker Viktor Bout and put Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bomber, behind bars for life.
Given New York’s international profile, many of Bharara’s cases went global. In 2013, his investigations caused a major diplomatic incident when he charged India’s deputy consul general in New York, Devyani Khobragade, with visa fraud relating to a domestic worker she employed. The strip searching of the consul caused India to retaliate by downgrading security at the US embassy in New Delhi.
India demanded an apology for Khobragade’s treatment. Faced with the unraveling of a crucial US relationship with a key Asian power, Secretary of State John Kerry expressed “regret” for the incident.
Bharara’s high-profile cases caught the eye of the lionizing New York media and made him a public figure. His pursuit of hedge funds is said to have inspired the Showtime series “Billions.” His insider trading cases landed him on the cover of Time magazine in 2012 under the headline “This Man is Busting Wall Street.” The New Yorker dubbed him “the Showman.” He has often been talked about as a possible attorney general in a Democratic administration.
Bharara explained his prosecutorial style in an interview with Vanity Fair in 2014 in San Francisco. He argued that sometimes, in big financial firms, some people try to get as close to the legal line as they could.
“When people try to get as close to the line as possible without going over, some people are going to miss the mark and they are going to go over the line,” the Indian-born Bharara said.
“Just like firefighters have to go look when there is smoke, there may not be a fire, but if there is smoke you have got to look,” he said. “Sometimes when you look to see if there is fire when there is smoke, you have to break down a door or break a window.”
A former FBI agent who requested anonymity to freely discuss the matter called Bharara’s firing “crazy,” saying he is a “rock star” in the law enforcement community.
One of his earlier patrons, Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, whom Bharara served as chief counsel, said the White House decision to oust his friend is “interrupting ongoing cases and investigations and hindering the administration of justice.”
In the Vanity Fair interview, Bharara, a graduate of Harvard and Columbia Law School, reflected on the psychology of white-collar criminals who took risks and transgressed even when, in many cases, they already had riches beyond the comprehension of most people.
“Any time you have proximity to power and money, and money in many ways gives you access to power, you are going to have people who are going to cut corners, and they are going to do bad things.”
Once, Bharara went on a stunning streak and piled up 85 straight wins in corruption cases.
He was asked by PBS’s Charlie Rose in 2014 about comparisons by MarketWatch between his record and baseball Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak.
Bharara, whose family are New York Yankees fans, quipped,”We did a little better than DiMaggio.”
He also rejected claims that his office had cherry-picked cases to get easy convictions.
“We are as aggressive as they come, appropriately aggressive, but very aggressive because that’s what I think the public wants,” he said.
Wall Street may be breathing a sigh of relief Saturday night that that aggression will no longer be directed its way. But it’s unlikely public life has seen the last of Bharara.