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During a fraught phone call at 2:30 in the afternoon on Saturday, a tense, nearly 24-hour standoff over the fate of the U.S. attorney in Manhattan came to a head: Preet Bharara was out.
But was he fired, or did he resign?
Bharara Tweeted on a personal account that he had been fired.
But an official familiar with what happened says acting deputy attorney general Dana Boente never said the words "you're fired."
There is no particular legal or practical difference between being fired or asked to resign, but politically the stakes are enormous.
Trump administration officials are at pains not to suggest that Preet Bharara, the powerful U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, was any different than any of the other U.S. Attorneys asked to resign on Friday.
And for Bharara, being fired by Trump—who is deeply unpopular among New York Democrats—could be a boost to a political career that many Democrats and Republicans are predicting for the prosecutor.
"Bharara's decision not to resign if anything will be considered a badge of honor in New York," said Edward Little, a partner at the law firm Hughes Hubbard & Reed, and a former federal prosecutor in the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York.
"It's not clear whether he will run for office soon, as he has always been interested in public office or whether he will take a break and join one of the major law firms in the City, any one of which would be thrilled to have him," Little said.
During Saturday's phone call, an official said Boente told Bharara he needed to submit a letter of resignation. Bharara asked if that meant he was being fired. Boente again said Bharara needed to submit a letter of resignation. Boente said a message Friday to presidentially appointed US attorneys applied to everyone, including including Bharara. After the call, Bharara issued his Tweet saying he had been fired.
"The White House probably didn't want to fire him outright so as to maintain the appearance of following the custom of replacing most or all of the US Attorneys, who are political appointments," Little said.
"Bharara's refusal to resign was probably a way of expressing his surprise and dissatisfaction with Trump's reneging on his promise to keep him in office."