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SDNY U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman Defies Barr’s Attempt to Oust Him



Late Friday night, Attorney General William Barr released a statement announcing that U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman was “stepping down” as the top federal prosecutor for the powerful and fiercely independent Southern District of New York, that President Trump planned to nominate Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton — who has no prosecutorial experience — to replace him, and that Trump was appointing the current U.S. attorney for New Jersey, Craig Carpenito, to take over the SDNY while Clayton awaits Senate confirmation.

About an hour later, Berman — who has overseen aggressive criminal investigations of several people close to the president including Trump lawyer and confidante Rudy Giuliani, Trump fixer Michael Cohen, and Giuliani associates (and Trump donors and Trump Ukraine fixers) Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman — didn’t just make it clear he opposed being fired, but released a statement in which he effectively called Barr a liar, refused to step down until a replacement was confirmed by the Senate, asserted that Barr has no legal authority to fire him, and vowed that the SDNY would continue its investigations “unimpeded” in the meantime.

“I learned in a press release from the Attorney General tonight that I was ‘stepping down’ as United States Attorney,” Berman said in a statement released by the SDNY. “I have not resigned, and have no intention of resigning, my position, to which I was appointed by the Judges of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.”

“I will step down when a presidentially appointed nominee is confirmed by the Senate. Until then, our investigations will move forward without delay or interruption. I cherish every day that I work with the men and women of this Office to pursue justice without fear or favor and intend to ensure that this Office’s important cases continue unimpeded.”

Since Berman was not nominated by the president and then confirmed by the Senate as is traditionally the case with U.S. attorneys, but was appointed by the federal court in his district, the law is likely on his side when it comes to whether or not Barr can remove him before his replacement is confirmed.

According to one of the New York Times’ sources, Barr asked Berman to resign then tried to fire him after he refused, and Trump and his advisers have reportedly wanted Berman gone for some time — dissatisfaction which began when Berman and the SDNY went after Michael Cohen as part of the Stormy Daniels hush-money probe. 

According to an unnamed Justice Department official who spoke with the Washington Post, Barr sought the change because Clayton had expressed interest in the job, Barr liked that idea despite the fact that the former corporate attorney would be the first non-prosecutor to lead the SDNY  and that Berman had declined an offer to take over the Justice Department’s Civil Division. And according to CNN:

Last fall, Justice Department officials discussed replacing Berman with Ed O’Callaghan, a senior official, but then prosecutors indicted [Giuliani associates Parnas and Fruman], a move that appeared to extend Berman’s tenure.

Trump and Barr have long taken issue with the office’s handling of various cases, but people close to the office believe its string of extremely high-profile investigations – including those of Cohen, Giuliani and Jeffrey Epstein – may have deterred Justice officials from pushing out Berman because his exit would have been certain to cause an uproar and charges of political interference. For the last several months, however, largely due to the coronavirus pandemic, the office has had a relatively quiet period, and some believe Barr seized that opportunity to oust Berman.

In addition, former Trump national security adviser John Bolton alleges in his new book (which Trump and Barr are trying to suppress) that President Trump had told Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2018 that he could help make an SDNY investigation into the Turkish bank Halkbank go away.
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