Trump sparks new controversy with U.S. Attorney dismissals

U.S. President Donald Trump looks at Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S.
U.S. President Donald Trump looks at Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 10,...

Federal prosecutor Preet Bharara said Saturday he did not resign — and was swiftly fired — after the Department of Justice demanded that he and 45 other U.S. attorneys abruptly step down.Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked for those chief prosecutors who were holdovers from the Obama administration to voluntarily resign Friday. They included Bharara, who in November said Trump had asked him to stay on as U.S. Attorney of the Southern District of New York during a meeting in Trump Tower.

And this is where the story gets a little weird. Preet Bharara has earned a reputation as one of the most important legal figures in the United States, overseeing a U.S. Attorney's office that's tackled critically important cases -- on matters ranging from terrorism to Wall Street to government corruption.Bharara was appointed by President Obama, but he wanted to stay on at his post, and during the presidential transition period, Donald Trump specifically told Bharara that he could keep his job. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the same commitment to the New York prosecutor.On Friday afternoon, however, Trump reversed course and asked for Bharara's resignation. Bharara refused, prompting the president to fire him on Saturday.Trump does not have a successor in place. Indeed, for all 46 of the U.S. Attorneys who were told to clean out their offices on Friday, the White House has nominated a grand total of zero prosecutors to fill these new vacancies.At this point, there's no evidence to suggest we're looking at a new "purge" scandal, 10 years after the first one. As longtime readers may recall, I obsessively covered the original U.S. Attorney controversy in 2007, after the Bush/Cheney White House fired several of its own prosecutors after they resisted pressure to bring politically motivated cases during the 2006 midterm elections.Friday's developments, at least for now, appear different. But that doesn't make the story benign.Why was Bahara told he could stay, only to be fired without explanation? And why in the world did the president want to speak directly to Bahara late Thursday?Did any of these prosecutors' dismissals relate to ongoing cases the White House wants to derail? Did Trump act because Republican pundits told him to?Was Bahara part of a broader overhaul, or were 46 U.S. Attorneys dismissed to obscure the targeting of this one New York prosecutor? Why couldn't this have been done in a more orderly and less chaotic way? Why did nearly four dozen U.S. Attorneys have to clean out their desks immediately?Why did Bahara tweet yesterday, "By the way, now I know what the Moreland Commission must have felt like"?I can appreciate the fact that when it comes to this White House, the number of ongoing controversies is starting to pile up, but these questions need answers.Postscript: In 2013, after the Obama administration imposed sanctions on a number of Russians, Vladimir Putin quickly announced that 18 Americans would no longer be able to enter Russia. Among the 18 was Preet Bharara, who prosecuted a Russian arms dealer.I haven't seen any evidence that Trump fired Bharara because Putin has a problem with him, but under the circumstances, it seemed like a point worth mentioning.