A lot has changed for Preet Bharara since March 11.
“I’m not a different guy. I had a different job” Bharara, the former US attorney for the Southern District of New York and a CNN contributor, told CNN’s Bill Weir. “There’s a difference in how you’re supposed to input yourself when you’re acting on behalf of the United States government, as opposed to being a private citizen. (That’s) something that the President doesn’t seem to feel.”
Bharara, who was appointed to his position in 2009 by President Barack Obama and once served as the chief counsel to Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, was one of the highest-profile federal prosecutors in the country and had a reputation as one of the most aggressive prosecutors of corruption and Wall Street crime. He was fired by President Donald Trump on March 11 after refusing to resign. Forty-five other Obama-appointed US attorneys were also asked for their resignations.
While it’s common for an incoming President to replace US attorneys appointed by their predecessors, Bharara says he had been asked to stay on by then President-elect Trump during a meeting at Trump Tower in November 2016.
“We had a lovely chat. He asked me to stay. He implored me to stay, in fact,” Bharara told CNN of his November meeting with Trump. “Given how much I was dedicated to the mission of the office and my assumption that I would be able to do it independently, I said, ‘It would be an honor to continue to serve.’ And so I did.”
In the days leading up to his firing, Bharara said Trump tried to reach him by phone.
“He called me a few times, unclear why,” Bharara told CNN. “The number of times that President Obama called me was zero.”
When Bharara was asked for his resignation on March 10, it came as a surprise. It was only after conversations with then-acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente that Bharara learned that Trump had indeed asked him to leave.
“I didn’t know if they remembered that I had been asked to stay by the President” Bharara told CNN. “There’s a lot of confusion that comes out of this White House, and that continues to be the case.”
Since leaving office, Bharara has chosen Trump’s favorite form of media to fire back at him and his policies: Twitter. Bharara says he created a personal Twitter account by happenstance a few days before he was fired not knowing what was about to happen. When he was fired, it was the easiest and quickest way to get the news out. His first tweet as a private citizen reads: “I did not resign. Moments ago I was fired. Being the US Attorney in SDNY will forever be the greatest honor of my professional life.”
Bharara has also weighed in on a number of issues in the months since he was fired, including the ongoing federal investigation into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 election. When Trump tweeted, “I strongly pressed President (Vladimir) Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election. He vehemently denied it. I’ve already given my opinion…” after he met with Putin at the G20 summit in July, Bharara tweeted in response: “When pursuing a corrupt politician, mobster or murderer on strong FBI evidence, if he ‘vehemently denied it,’ we just dropped it usually.”
“We don’t really do that,” Bharara quipped in his CNN interview. “It’s a standard principle in the world that when people are accused of things that they don’t want to be accused of, they say, ‘I didn’t do it.’”
Bharara is not involved with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team in the Russia investigation, and he says the American people will just have to wait for the investigation to conclude to get any real answers. “There are too many people who think it must be one way or another way,” he said. “It’s either, you know, a clear-cut impeachment case, or it’s a witch hunt. Bob Mueller’s assembling a great team, and they’ll figure it out.”
From a legal perspective, Bharara said he would characterize Trump’s tweeting habits as “Unhelpful. Counterproductive. Bordering on reckless. Not helpful to his own agenda.” Adds Bharara: “Knowing what I know about how the justice system should work, it’s not something that most lawyers and certainly most prosecutors and Justice Department officials think is a good idea for a President of the United States.”
Though Bharara and Trump do not see eye to eye on many issues, he does not underestimate the President.
“I think that the people who go around saying that the President is not smart are wrong,” Bharara told CNN. “This idea that people want to infantilize him gives him not enough credit. To say that someone is just spouting off in a tantrum is to suggest that he’s not intentional about the harm he’s doing and about the people he’s attacking. I think he’s very intentional about it.”
Now a private citizen, Bharara is keeping busy. He recently joined NYU’s law school as a distinguished scholar in residence, signed his first deal for a book due out in January 2019 – and he launched a new weekly podcast, “Stay Tuned with Preet,” last week. He plans to continue tweeting freely, something he would not consider as an acting US attorney.
“We wanted people to respect the voice of the office,” Bharara said. “If that was true for the United States attorney with jurisdiction over some portion of the criminal justice system, you would think that would go times infinity for the President of the United States.”