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Reference no. 719-0010-1
Prize winner
Published by:
Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford (2019)
Revision date:
21 pages
Data source:
Published sources


On 9 March 2017, Preet Bharara, US attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY), returned to his office to see that he had missed a phone call from US President Donald Trump. It was highly unusual for the president to want to speak directly with a US attorney. Such communication was usually routed through senior intermediaries in the US Department of Justice (DoJ) to avoid political influence in law enforcement. In this case, those intermediaries had no knowledge of the reason for President Trump’s phone call. While senior prosecutors like Bharara were political appointees who served at the will of the appointing president, in this case, Bharara was the chief law-enforcement officer in the jurisdiction that covered much of President Trump’s personal and business interests. Bharara wanted to avoid any appearance of impropriety, but he also knew that President Trump was an unorthodox leader who sought to deal directly with subordinates and shake up government bureaucracy. Bharara was keen not to hamper legitimate communications with the new White House. He had to decide whether to return the president’s phone call, in violation of DoJ norms.

Teaching and learning

This item is suitable for postgraduate and executive education courses.


Managing up; Managing upward; Ethics; Ethics / values; Ethical dilemma; Ethical dilemma and decision making; Difficult conversation; Organisational architecture; Organisational accountability; Accountability; Functional independence


The events covered by this item took place in 2017.

Geographical setting

United States

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Featured protagonist

  • Preet Bharara (male), US attorney for the Southern District of New York

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Awards, prizes & competitions

2019 - The Case Centre Awards - Outstanding Case Writer Competition winner

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