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.
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)