By Charlie Savage and Maggie Habermanmarch, nytimes.com
The Trump administration on Friday moved to sweep away the remaining vestiges of Obama administration prosecutors at the Justice Department, ordering 46 holdover United States attorneys to tender their resignations immediately — including Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan.
The firings were a surprise — especially for Mr. Bharara, who has a reputation for prosecuting public corruption cases. In November, Mr. Bharara met with then President-elect Donald J. Trump at Trump Tower and told reporters afterward that Mr. Trump had asked him about staying on, which the prosecutor said he expected to do.
But on Friday, Mr. Bharara was among federal prosecutors who received a call from Dana Boente, the acting deputy attorney general, instructing him to resign, according to a person familiar with the matter. A spokesman for Mr. Bharara declined to comment.
Sarah Isgur Flores, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said in an email that all remaining holdover United States attorneys had been asked to resign, leaving their deputy United States attorneys, who are career officials, in place in an acting capacity.
“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,” she said in the email. “The Attorney General has now asked the remaining 46 presidentially appointed U.S. Attorneys to tender their resignations in order to ensure a uniform transition.”
She added: “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.”
It was not clear how that affects Mr. Boente, who is the United States attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. Mr. Trump temporarily installed him as acting deputy attorney general after firing the holdover deputy from the Obama administration, Sally Yates, for refusing to defend Mr. Trump’s initial travel ban in court.
It was also not clear how the order affects Rod Rosenstein, the United States attorney for Maryland, whom Mr. Trump has nominated to be the deputy attorney general.
It remains possible that Mr. Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions may choose not to accept particular prosecutors’ resignations.
It is not unusual for a new president to replace United States attorneys appointed by a predecessor, especially when there has been a change in which party controls the White House.
Still, some presidents have done it gradually, while keeping some inherited prosecutors in place, as it had appeared Mr. Trump would do with Mr. Bharara. President Barack Obama, for example, kept Mr. Rosenstein, who had been appointed by President George W. Bush.
Still, in 1993, the Clinton administration fired all 93 United States attorneys on the same day.
Mr. Bharara is among the highest-profile United States attorneys, with a purview that includes Wall Street as well as a number of corruption cases involving New York elected officials or their aides.
Mr. Bharara’s office is involved in a case related to a top adviser to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and is also probing allegations of pay-for-play around Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York.
Mr. Trump invited Mr. Bharara to meet with him during a public get-together at Trump Tower during the transition. Afterward, Mr. Bharara told reporters that he had been asked to remain on in his job — and that Mr. Sessions had asked him to stay on.
A person familiar with the calls that have been made said there was no advance warning of the move. It came less than 24 hours after Sean Hannity, the Fox News commentator who often speaks with Mr. Trump, called for a “purge” of Obama appointees at the Justice Department on his show.