Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney for Manhattan, said in an interview that President Donald Trump tried to “cultivate a relationship” with him through several “weird and peculiar” conversations before suddenly firing him in March.
“He called me in December—ostensibly just to shoot the breeze—and asked me how I was doing and wanted to make sure I was O.K.,” Bharara said of his first call with Trump. “It was a little bit uncomfortable, but he was not the president, he was only the president-elect.”
Trump called a second time on Jan. 18, just days before the inauguration ceremony, again, for a casual conversation and to “check in.” A third and final call was attempted on March 9 but, fearing that receiving the call would constitute a breach of Justice Department rules about communication with the White House, Bharara rejected it and reported the call to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“I was in discussions with my own folks, and in reporting the phone call to the chief of staff to the attorney general, I said it appeared to be that he was trying to cultivate some kind of relationship,” he told ABC News on Sunday.
“When I’ve been reading the stories of how the president has been contacting Jim Comey over time, felt a little bit like déjà vu,” Bharara continued, referencing the former FBI Director’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
During that hearing, Comey described how Trump invited him to a private dinner in February, requested his loyalty, and tried to “create some sort of patronage relationship.”
“I’m not the FBI Director, but I was the chief federal law enforcement officer in Manhattan with jurisdiction over a lot of things including, you know, business interests and other things in New York,” Bharara said, suggesting that Trump was potentially aiming to compromise his independence as a federal prosecutor.
Less than 24 hours after the March 9 call, Bharara was among 46 U.S. attorneys asked to resign and, when he refused, was subsequently fired.
The former federal prosecutor has since become an outspoken critic of the president’s conduct.