(WASHINGTON) — The top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee said there “very well may be” a connection between the Justice Department’s dismissal of Preet Bharara as U.S. attorney and a watchdogs’ letter just days before asking Bharara to investigate whether President Trump’s businesses are receiving financial benefits from foreign governments.
Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopolous that Trump has the prerogative to dismiss U.S. attorneys, who are appointed by the president, but he said he is “curious” about the decision on Bharara, who was U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, and who was told in November by Trump that he could stay in his post.
“Just not very long ago, the president was saying that he was going to keep the U.S. attorney there in New York and then suddenly he’s, I guess, changed his mind,” Cummings said on ABC’s “This Week.” “There’s a lot of questions coming up as to whether … President Trump is concerned about the jurisdiction of this U.S. attorney.”
Bharara and all of the 45 other U.S. attorneys remaining as holdovers from the Obama administration were told by the Justice Department on Friday to resign. Bharara did not resign immediately and on Saturday announced he was “fired.”
Two days before the Justice Department asked the U.S. attorneys to resign, a group of ethics watchdogs wrote a letter asking Bharara to investigate whether Trumps’ businesses are receiving financial benefits from foreign governments, which would violate the emoluments clause in the Constitution. The Trump Organization’s main offices are in Manhattan, which was Bharara’s district.
“A failure by your office to investigate these reports and to take appropriate action will leave the Nation exposed to foreign governments directly and indirectly providing payments and financial benefits to President Trump when those foreign governments may be seeking to influence Executive Branch policies and positions,” said the letter, signed by the leaders of the groups Democracy 21, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and the Campaign Legal Center.
Asked by Stephanopoulos on whether he thinks “there might be a connection” between the letter and Bharara’s dismissal, Cummings said: “There very well may — very well may be.”
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