Fired former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said Thursday night at his much ballyhooed first public appearance since being let go by President Donald Trump that he still doesn’t know why it happened.
“Beats the hell out of me,” Bharara said in response to a pre-submitted question after an hourlong address to an adulatory crowd packing Cooper Union’s Great Hall.
In a series of tweets since his removal, Bharara — who was at first asked to stay on by Trump, then asked to resign along with all other holdover U.S. attorneys — has hinted that he was targeted because of his independence and perhaps because of particular cases.
He continued to insinuate in his speech when he explained why he wanted to be fired instead of resign, with a reference to his office’s jurisdiction over financial and media power centers and Trump Tower itself, but without evidence or even an allegation of misconduct.
“One of the reasons I said I wasn’t going to resign was I wanted the record to reflect for all time that there was a . . . specific decision to change one’s mind and to deliberately fire me, particularly given what my office’s jurisdiction is and where my office is situated,” Bharara said.
“I’m not making any accusations about anyone,” he added, “but I’ve lived long enough to know that you want the record to be clear.”
In response to a specific question about whether he thought any cases would be affected — his office is prosecuting a prominent Turkish businessman with ties to that country’s president, and reportedly investigating the Fox network and one of Trump’s cabinet secretaries — Bharara said he had faith in his successors.
“I have every expectation that the cases will proceed apace,” he said.
The rest of Bharara’s speech was largely devoted to good government themes and lauding America’s immigrant tradition — he came from India as an infant — along with a series of remarks indirectly mocking and attacking Trump.
He told the audience, for example, that he believed his Cooper Union crowd was bigger than the one former President Barack Obama drew, estimating 1 to 1.5 million. “I don’t care what the pictures show!” he said.
“You don’t drain a swamp with a slogan,” he said at another point. “You don’t replace partisans with partisans. . . . You don’t replace muck with muck.”
Bharara, who became a celebrity prosecuting political corruption, terrorism and insider trading cases, and is now a dignitary-in-residence at New York University Law School, continued to forswear political ambitions.
“I have no plans to enter politics, just like I have no plans to join the circus,” Bharara said. “And I mean no offense to the circus.”