Trump tried to call New York prosecutor before firing him - source

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WASHINGTON, March 12 (Reuters) - Two days before U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara was fired, the high-profile New York prosecutor declined to take a call from President Donald Trump, a U.S. law enforcement official said on Sunday.

Bharara contacted Justice Department headquarters for authorization to speak to the president on Thursday, according to detailed account from the law enforcement source. When he apparently did not receive it, he called back the woman who had contacted him to say he did not want to talk to Trump without the approval of his superiors.

As the chief federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, which includes Manhattan, Bharara oversaw several notable corruption and white-collar criminal cases and prosecutions of terrorism suspects. He was one of 46 Obama administration holdovers who were asked to resign by the Justice Department on Friday.

He said on Saturday he had been fired after he defied the request to resign. The move was a surprise because Bharara told reporters in November that Trump had asked him to remain in the job.

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FILE PHOTO: U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara speaks during a Reuters Newsmaker event in New York City, U.S., July 13, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File photo
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 20: Preet Bharara, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, speaks during a press conference announcing corruption charges against members the New York City Police Department, at the U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of New York, June 20, 2016 in New York City. Early Monday morning, three members of the New York City Police Department and a businessman, who is a top fundraiser for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, were arrested on federal corruption charges including the exchange of lavish gifts for favors. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 20: Preet Bharara, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, gestures at a chart during a press conference announcing corruption charges against members the New York City Police Department, at the U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of New York, June 20, 2016 in New York City. Early Monday morning, three members of the New York City Police Department and a businessman, who is a top fundraiser for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, were arrested on federal corruption charges including the exchange of lavish gifts for favors. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
US Attorney Southern District of New York Preet Bharara speaks at the Wall Street Journal CEO council annual meeting in Washington on November 15, 2016. / AFP / YURI GRIPAS (Photo credit should read YURI GRIPAS/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 30: Preet Bharara, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, arrives at Trump Tower on November 30, 2016 in New York City. President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team are in the process of filling cabinet and other high level positions for the new administration. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 17: Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, speaks at a news conference where it was announced that two former pharmaceutical executives are facing federal criminal charges over a fraud and kickback scheme on November 17, 2016 in New York City. Former Philidor Rx Services CEO Andrew Davenport and former Valeant executive Gary Tanner were charged Thursday with wire fraud, money laundering and other charges in which prosecutors say they made millions of dollars illegally. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, speaks during a press conference in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016. A former portfolio manager who was responsible for investing more than $53 billion in New York State employee retirement funds took more than $100,000 in bribes in exchange for steering more than $2 billion in pension business to two brokers, earning them and their firms millions of dollars in commissions, authorities said on Wednesday. Photographer: Peter Foley/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, speaks during a press conference in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016. A former portfolio manager who was responsible for investing more than $53 billion in New York State employee retirement funds took more than $100,000 in bribes in exchange for steering more than $2 billion in pension business to two brokers, earning them and their firms millions of dollars in commissions, authorities said on Wednesday. Photographer: Peter Foley/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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While it is expected for political appointees including prosecutors to be replaced after an election, the mass firing of so many U.S. attorneys was unusual and abrupt.

The Justice Department would not comment on reports of Bharara's contacts with Trump representatives and Attorney General Jeff Sessions' office in the days before his firing.

The White House had no comment on Sunday on any contacts with Bharara.

The office in the southern district of New York handles some of the most critical business and criminal cases that pass through the federal judicial system. Bharara had been overseeing a probe into New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's fundraising.

Bharara said his deputy, Joon Kim, would serve as his temporary replacement.

The law enforcement source declined comment on whether or not the office had any active investigations related to Trump.

On Wednesday, three watchdog groups asked Bharara to take steps to prevent the Trump Organization from receiving benefits from foreign governments that might enrich Trump, who has not given up ownership of the business.

Norm Eisen, a former White House ethics lawyer who leads one of the groups, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, questioned the timing of the firings.

"I do believe that something odd happened," he said. "You don't decide to keep 46 folks on, then suddenly demand their immediate exit, without some precipitating cause or causes."

Democrat Elijah Cummings, ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, said on Sunday it was the president's prerogative to fire U.S. attorneys. But he questioned why Trump had suddenly changed his mind on keeping Bharara.

"I'm just curious as to why that is," Cummings said on ABC's "This Week" program. "Certainly, there's a lot of questions coming up as to whether ... President Trump is concerned about the jurisdiction of this U.S. attorney and whether that might affect his future." (Reporting by Mark Hosenball; additional reporting by Lawrence Hurley; writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Grant McCool)


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