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Sessions asks 46 U.S. attorneys to resign; Bharara’s future unclear

In this March 6, 2017 photo, Attorney General

In this March 6, 2017 photo, Attorney General Jeff Sessions waits to make a statement at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office in Washington. Credit: AP

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday asked for the resignations of the 46 remaining United States attorneys in the country who had been appointed by the Obama administration, and Robert Capers, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District, which includes Long Island, promptly resigned.

The status of the more prominent U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, was less clear Friday night, but signs pointed to an unexpected end for a celebrated tenure that made him the scourge of both Wall Street fraudsters and crooked New York politicians.

When asked if Bharara, also a Democratic appointee, had been asked to resign, Sarah Isgur Flores, Sessions’ chief spokesperson, said in an e-mail: “The request for U.S. Attorneys to tender their resignation applies to all Senate-confirmed U.S. Attorneys.”

That appeared to contradict previous accounts that President Donald Trump had asked Bharara to stay on and he had agreed. Asked about the apparent contradiction, Isgur Flores said: “I’d refer you to the White House if you’re asking about any statements from the president.”

Friday night, the Justice Department said that Trump was not accepting two of the resignations — Rod Rosenstein of Maryland, who had been nominated as Sessions’ top deputy, and Dana Boente of Virginia, currently acting as deputy attorney general.

But the statement made no reference to Bharara, and earlier a White House official, asked if Bharara and others might still be reappointed, said, “All 46 U.S. attorneys have received their letters of resignation and they are being treated the same.”

Spokesmen for Bharara declined to comment.

Bharara got a call asking him to resign from Justice Department officials Friday morning, according to a source.

One source familiar with the situation said Bharara’s office “thought everything was fine until this morning.”

Bharara, 48, an Indian-American who took over the office in 2009, became a celebrity figure in New York after a series of high-profile investigations and prosecutions of Wall Street traders, politicians, terrorists and cybercriminals.

Under his leadership, the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office convicted former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, and former Senate Republican Dean Skelos. A one-time top aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Joseph Percoco, is expected to go on trial this year, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has been under investigation for a year.

There are 93 U.S. attorneys who supervise federal prosecution and law enforcement in their districts. Each is appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

An incoming administration is understood to appoint U.S. attorneys of their choosing.

In announcing the request for the resignations earlier in the day, Isgur Flores said: “As was the case in prior transitions, many of the United States attorneys nominated by the previous administration already have left the Department of Justice.”

“The attorney general,” she continued, “has now asked the remaining 46 presidentially appointed U.S. attorneys to tender their resignations in order to ensure a uniform transition. Until the new U.S. attorneys are confirmed, the dedicated career prosecutors in our U.S. attorney’s offices will continue the great work of the department in investigating, prosecuting, and deterring the most violent offenders.”

Capers, the United States attorney for the Eastern District, said in a statement: “This afternoon, I was instructed to resign my position as United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, effective March 10, 2017. It has been my greatest honor to serve my country, New York City and the people of this district for almost 14 years, with the last 17 months serving as United States Attorney.”

Until a new U.S. attorney is confirmed for the Eastern District, Capers said his chief assistant, Bridget M. Rohde, “will continue the great work of this office as acting United States attorney.”

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer said in a statement he was “troubled to learn of reports of requests for resignations,” particular Bharara’s.

“By asking for the immediate resignation of every remaining U.S. attorney before their replacements have been confirmed or even nominated,” Schumer said, “the president is interrupting ongoing cases and investigations and hindering the administration of justice.”

While not having as high a media profile as Bharara, Capers, a career prosecutor, has had a number of notable cases in his district, which also covers Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.

Among them most recently, the prosecution of of MS-13 gang members for a series of brutal murders including that of two high school girls; the conviction of the Suffolk Police Chief James Burke for orchestrating the cover-up of his beating of a man who stole a duffel bag from his SUV; and the indictment of the Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano on corruption charges. That case is awaiting trial.

With John Riley


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