Ex-prosecutor Bharara got two ‘weird, unusual’ calls from Trump. After declining a third, he was fired
Former crime-busting New York prosecutor says there is ‘absolutely’ enough evidence to start obstruction case against US President, but doesn’t know if it’s provable
Former US Attorney Preet Bharara revealed on Sunday that he received two “unusual” phone calls from Donald Trump after the November election that made him feel uncomfortable, and said he was fired after declining to take the third call.
Speaking on ABC News’ This Week in his first televised interview since Trump fired him in March as the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, Bharara said he believed Trump’s calls to him violated the usual boundaries between the executive branch and independent criminal investigators.
“It’s a very weird and peculiar thing for a one-on-one conversation without the attorney general, without warning, between the president and me or any United States attorney who has been asked to investigate various things and is in a position hypothetically to investigate business interests and associates of the president,” Bharara said.
He added that during the eight years of president Barack Obama’s tenure, Obama never called him directly.
Bharara’s comments came just a few days after former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey testified at a congressional panel that Trump had asked him to drop an investigation into former Trump aide Michael Flynn and his alleged ties to Russia.
Comey also said he believed he was subsequently fired in an effort to undermine the investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election.
Trump has denied allegations of collusion between his campaign and Russia and said he never directed Comey to drop the Flynn probe.
I believe the James Comey leaks will be far more prevalent than anyone ever thought possible. Totally illegal? Very 'cowardly!'
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 11, 2017
A White House spokeswoman could not immediately be reached for comment.
Bharara said on Sunday that Trump called him twice after the November election “ostensibly just to shoot the breeze.”
“It was a little bit uncomfortable, but he was not the president. He was only the president-elect,” Bharara said.
The third call, however, came two days after Trump’s inauguration. That time, he said, he refused to call back.
“The call came in. I got a message. We deliberated over it, thought it was inappropriate to return the call. And 22 hours later I was asked to resign along with 45 other people,” he said.
Bharara stopped short of saying whether he thought Trump had obstructed justice in his conversations and subsequent firing of Comey.
However, he said he thought there was “absolutely evidence to begin a case” into the matter.
“No one knows right now whether there is a provable case of obstruction,” Bharara said in his first televised interview since his dismissal. He added, “based on what I see as a third party and out of government, that there’s no basis to say there’s no obstruction.”
Comey, at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Thursday that was attended by Bharara, said Trump asked him to back off a probe of fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and his interactions with Russian officials. Trump said the testimony showed here was “no collusion, no obstruction,” and criticised Comey again on Sunday, saying on Twitter that the former FBI chief was “cowardly.”
“I believe the James Comey leaks will be far more prevalent than anyone ever thought possible. Totally illegal? Very ‘cowardly!’” Trump told his 32 million Twitter followers on Sunday.
On Friday, Trump said during a news conference at the White House that Comey’s Senate testimony a day earlier showed that the president hadn’t colluded with the Russian government to rig the 2016 election, and hadn’t obstructed a federal investigation into the meddling.
Trump also said he’d be “100 per cent” willing to testify under oath that he didn’t demand a pledge of personal loyalty from Comey - an offer that Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer jumped on.
Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions late Saturday cancelled planned appearances at a pair of appropriations panels on Tuesday and instead said he would appear before the intelligence committee, to answer questions about alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
That panel hasn’t announced the timing of a hearing with Sessions, though, or said whether he’ll appear in an open or closed format.
Senator James Lankford, Republican of Oklahoma, said on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday that the committee is still in a “final conversation” with Sessions but assumes the hearing would be public.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg