Former United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara attends the Senate Intelligence Committee where FBI Director James Comey is sent to testify in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill June 8, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Fired US attorney: Watching Comey like deja vu
01:00 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Bharara gives what he calls "the most detailed account" he's so far given about his firing by Trump

On Trump's calls, he says: "I hoped that was a one-time thing, and I wasn't going to hear from him again"

Washington CNN  — 

Preet Bharara, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York who President Donald Trump fired just three months into his presidency, says he believes that if he had stayed Trump would have asked him “to do something inappropriate.”

“I will tell you one thing, now that it’s been some months. I believe based on the information that we have on the president talking to Jim Comey relating to Michael Flynn, the information about the president talking to Jeff Sessions about the case of Joe Arpaio, and how he wanted both of those cases to go away – that had I not been fired, and had Donald Trump continued to cultivate a direct personal relationship with me, it’s my strong belief that at some point, given the history, the President of the United States would have asked me to do something inappropriate,” Preet said on the first episode of his new podcast “Stay Tuned with Preet.”

On Wednesday, it was announced that Bharara had been hired as a senior legal analyst at CNN.

During the podcast, Bharara gave what he called “the most detailed account” yet about the events leading up to his firing by Trump in March, which he hinges on a series of unannounced and highly unusual phone calls he received from Trump after Election Day.

Bharara added that he still doesn’t know why he was fired by Trump in March. He was known as one of Wall Street’s fiercest watchdogs and a widely respected prosecutor.

The interactions Bharara said he had with Trump started with a call from Democratic New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, his old boss, who called Bharara shortly after the election to tell him Trump wanted to keep him around.

Bharara said that the call came as a surprise to him but was “flattered at the time.” It led to an in-person meet-and-greet on November 30 with the President-elect along with his right-hand campaign aides – and later White House advisers – Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner, he said.

During the meeting, Bharara said nothing “inappropriate” or “untoward” came up, including discussing the details of any ongoing cases. But something peculiar did happen: Trump requested Bharara’s personal cell phone and office numbers.

“It was odd, because as a general matter, Presidents don’t speak directly to United States attorneys. It’s unheard of in my experience,” he said. “You know the number of times President (Barack) Obama called me? Zero.”

The first call from Trump came less than a month later, on December 12, Bharara said.

“I wondered what it was about and I also wondered why the President-elect would not have foremost in his mind the awkwardness that was the tarmac incident where there was a private conversation between Bill Clinton and then Attorney General Loretta Lynch. And the most notable critic of that meeting was Donald Trump himself,” Bharara said. “But he was not yet the President. He couldn’t direct me to do anything.”

Bharara chose to return Trump’s call. But he said he noted at the time that it “wasn’t the greatest thing in the world to have a direct and casual line of communication between a sitting United States attorney and a future President of the United States. Particularly given the kinds of jurisdiction I have in Manhattan.”

Which, Bharara added, included “interests close to the President of the United States.”

However, the call ended up being pretty unmemorable, Bharara said. He described Trump as “genial” and said he sounded like he wanted to “cultivate a relationship.”

“I hoped that was a one time thing, and I wasn’t going to hear from him again,” Bharara said.

But it was not. The next call from Trump came the day before inauguration. It went to Bharara’s voicemail and he once again said he had to weigh the option on whether to call the almost-President back. Because Trump was not yet in office, and still did not technically have authority over Bharara, he said he decided to return the call.

“This time again the President-elect seemed to simply be calling to shoot the breeze,” Bharara said, adding that he thought it was “odd that (Trump) had time for a five-minute chit-chat to the local US attorney in Manhattan” especially considering that it was the day before he took office.

Bharara added: “To my knowledge, Donald Trump did not reach out to any other US attorney, and none has come forward to say they got a phone call – it seemed like it was just me.”

Bharara went about his job for a month and a half before he got another direct call from Trump on March 9. But this time was different. Trump was now the President. Bharara said what was especially notable about the date of the call was that at the time there had been much many cries from multiple corners to investigate aspects of Trump’s business dealings and other ethics issues.

“I have reason to believe later that nobody knew that Donald Trump was calling me from the Oval Office,” Bharara said. “I’m not saying he was going to tell me to do something I shouldn’t do, but I thought even the phone call was a problem.”

Bharara said he mulled over how to react to the call. He considered having someone listen in to the call but said it didn’t seem proper. He even considered recording the phone conversation but said he ultimately decided it was “a bridge too far.”

So instead, he decided to decline the call completely, and called back the President’s office to let them know.

Less than 20 hours later, Bharara said, he was asked to resign.

Today, Bharara says he is still unsure why he was ultimately let go, along with 46 other US attorneys appointed under President Barack Obama – especially since Trump had gone out of his way to let Bharara know he wanted to keep him.

“People ask me why do you think you were fired, and I say ‘I dunno.’ I’m prepared to believe lots of things are possible, It could be because someone got angry that I didn’t return the phone call. It could be that people thought that all of these US attorneys were part of this nonsensical notion of the deep state. It could be a combination of reasons. It could have been an accident and they decided to stick with it. It could be that they didn’t want independent people around,” he said. “I’m not here to speculate. I just laid out the facts.”

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correctly state when Schumer contacted Bharara by phone.

CNN’s Euan McKirdy contributed to this report.