Federal prosecutor Preet Bharara said Saturday he did not resign — and was swiftly fired — after the Department of Justice demanded that he and 45 other U.S. attorneys abruptly step down.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked for those chief prosecutors who were holdovers from the Obama administration to voluntarily resign Friday. They included Bharara, who in November said Trump had asked him to stay on as U.S. Attorney of the Southern District of New York during a meeting in Trump Tower.
Nevertheless, Bharara received a phone call Friday to relinquish his role — but he refused Sessions' order in an act of defiance that put pressure on the White House to show its muscle.
On Saturday afternoon, Bharara sent out a tweet confirming he was terminated: "I did not resign. Moments ago I was fired. Being the US Attorney in SDNY will forever be the greatest honor of my professional life."
In a follow-up statement, Bharara reflected on his career as attorney general since President Barack Obama appointed him in 2009.
"One hallmark of justice is absolute independence, and that was my touchstone every day that I served," he said. "I want to thank the amazing people of the Southern District of New York, the greatest public servants in the world, for everything they do each day in pursuit of justice."
Joon Kim, the current deputy U.S. attorney for the district, will serve as acting U.S. attorney.
Bharara, 48, is known as an aggressive attorney who made a career chasing down corruption and crime on Wall Street as well as prosecuting government officials, white-collar criminals and Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad.
"Preet Bharara has been an exemplary U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement Saturday. "His relentless drive to root out public corruption, lock up terrorists, take on Wall Street, and stand up for what is right should serve as a model for all U.S. attorneys across the country. He will be sorely missed."
Multiple officials with knowledge of the day's events told NBC News that Bharara had staunchly refused to resign his office earlier Saturday. He told his staff that he planned to stay on, had no intention of leaving and was even planning on being at his office Monday morning for work, sources said.
Some in law enforcement circles suggested that Bharara was essentially daring the Justice Department and the White House to fire him.
But it still came as a complete surprise to many in law enforcement that the man who was investigating New York City's mayor, New York's governor, disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner, Wall Street executives and many other high-profile cases, was ultimately fired.
There are 93 U.S. attorneys who serve as the top federal prosecutors in their states, and all are appointed at the pleasure of the president. Forty-seven of them who began under the previous administration initially stepped down, and the White House asked for the 46 additional resignations Friday.
A Justice Department statement said the action mirrored "the case in prior transitions."
The last time that happened was in 1993 when then-Attorney General Janet Reno asked all 93 U.S. attorneys to abandon their posts.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Bharara had served the people of New York with "honor and distinction" and would be "sorely missed." Schneiderman then turned his sights on the White House and Sessions.
"President Trump's abrupt and unexplained decision to summarily remove over 40 U.S. Attorneys has once again caused chaos in the federal government," he said in a statement, "and led to questions about whether the Justice Department's vital and non-partisan work will continue under Attorney General Sessions, as it must."
Bharara, whose district includes Trump's home base of Manhattan, was supported by politicians on both sides of the aisle for his dogged manner.
"Good for Preet," tweeted Brian Kolb, the Republican leader of the New York State Assembly, after first learning Bharara had refused to resign, "he is doing the job he was appointed to do!"
Others were concerned by the Justice Department's decision.
"I'm troubled to learn of reports of requests for resignations from the remaining U.S. Attorneys, particularly that of Preet Bharara, after the President initiated a call to me in November and assured me he wanted Mr. Bharara to continue to serve as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District," Schumer said Friday before Bharara was fired.
"Definitely not a wise move at all," tweeted New York State Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, who was an adopter of Trump's "Drain the Swamp" catchphrase.
"Also not hard to see that he's [Bharara] been a fighter trying to #Draintheswamp," McLaughlin said in response to a follower.