- Attorney General William Barr announced Friday that Geoffrey Berman, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, is “stepping down.”
- But Berman released a statement after saying he was not aware of this until Barr’s announcement.
- “I learned in a press release from the Attorney General tonight that I was ‘stepping down’ as United States Attorney,” Berman said. “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,” he added. “Until then, our investigations will move forward without delay or interruption.”
- The SDNY is conducting multiple investigations into Trump associates including his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. Berman’s office also indicted Turkey’s Halkbank even though Barr and President Trump both reportedly tried to intervene to kill the investigation.
- ABC News reported that Barr offered Berman other jobs at the DOJ, but Berman declined. CNN also reported that Berman was “forced out” of his job and that Barr asked him to resign but Berman refused to do so.
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Attorney General William Barr announced Friday that Geoffrey Berman, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, is “stepping down” from his role. He added that President Donald Trump will nominate Jay Clayton, the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), to replace Berman.
The attorney general added that at his recommendation, while the Senate considers Clayton’s nomination, Trump has appointed Craig Carpenito, the US attorney for the District of New Jersey, to serve as acting US attorney for the SDNY.
“This appointment will be effective July 3, and Craig will work closely with the outgoing United States Attorney to ensure a smooth transition,” Barr said. “I thank Craig for his continued service and for taking on this important interim responsibility.”
But Berman said in a statement later that he has “no intention” of stepping down or resigning and that he will continue to serve in his capacity until the Senate confirms a replacement.
“I learned in a press release from the Attorney General tonight that I was ‘stepping down’ as United States Attorney. 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,” Berman said.
“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,” he added. “I cherish every day that I work with the men and women of this Office to pursue justice without fear or favour – and intend to insure that this Office’s important cases continue unimpeded.”
The SDNY conducted or is conducting multiple investigations into Trump associates and other interests linked to the president.
- Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, is being investigated over his business dealings in Ukraine and whether he failed to register as a foreign agent.
- SDNY charged two of Giuliani’s Ukrainian business associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, with conspiring to violate straw and foreign donor bans.
- Berman’s office successfully prosecuted Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime former lawyer, who implicated Trump in several crimes including campaign finance violations and tax fraud.
- The Manhattan US attorney’s office subpoenaed Trump’s inaugural committee as part of an investigation into potential criminal conduct including accepting illegal foreign contributions at inaugural events.
- The SDNY charged then Republican Rep. Chris Collins, a staunch Trump supporter, with insider trading in late 2018. Collins has since resigned.
Barr likely can’t force Berman out unless Berman resigns
HuffPost reporter Ryan Reilly tweeted that Barr’s announcement Friday was unplanned.
“I’m told Geoffrey Berman just sent a video message to SDNY employees yesterday talking about proper use of PPE,” Reilly tweeted, referring to personal protective equipment. “His departure was not all all expected.”
“The news came as a shock tonight,” ABC News reporter Katherine Faulders tweeted, adding that sources said Barr offered Berman other positions, like the head of the DOJ’s Civil Division, but Berman declined.
CNN’s Kaitlan Collins also tweeted that Berman was “forced out,” and that Barr asked him to resign but Berman refused to do so.
Berman has served as the US attorney for SDNY for two and a half years. He took over the position from Preet Bharara, whom Trump fired in 2017, and legal experts said Barr likely can’t force him out because he was placed in his position through a judicial appointment.
“There’s a pretty good argument that, per the plain language of 28 U.S.C. § 546(d), he gets to keep serving in that post until the *vacancy* is filled (through Senate confirmation of a permanent successor),” tweeted Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law.
However, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel has a longstanding view that while Barr can’t fire Berman, the president can.
CNN reported that tensions between Berman and Barr have heated up recently as the two men butted heads over the handling of some cases, including the department’s indictment of the Turkish state-owned bank Halkbank. Turkey spent millions of dollars lobbying the White House, Congress, and the State Department to ask the Justice Department not to investigate the bank.
Former national security adviser John Bolton claimed in his upcoming book that Trump assured Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he would intervene to stop the SDNY’s Halkbank investigation.
CNN also reported in February that Barr “personally spearheaded” an effort last year to shield Halkbank from prosecution and negotiate a settlement with the bank that would have allowed it to avoid being indicted. The SDNY ultimately charged Halkbank in federal court for its alleged participation in a multi-billion dollar Iranian effort to sidestep sanctions.
In March, Berman made headlines when he asserted his office’s independence from “partisan political concerns.”
“The Southern District of New York has a long history of integrity and pursuing cases and declining to pursue cases based only on the facts and the law and the equities, without regard to partisan political concerns,” he said on March 9. “My primary commitment is and has been to maintain those core values and that’s how our office is operating.”
Berman’s statement came after Barr and senior Justice Department leaders made the unprecedented decision to publicly overrule prosecutors working on the case against the Trump ally and former Republican strategist Roger Stone to seek a lesser sentence for him.
All four prosecutors withdrew from the case after the sentencing reversal.
House Judiciary Committee will invite Berman to testify
Friday’s news stunned lawmakers and law enforcement veterans.
“This late Friday night dismissal reeks of potential corruption of the legal process,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told CNN’s Manu Raju. “What is angering President Trump? A previous action by this U.S. Attorney or one that is ongoing?”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said his committee will invite Berman to testify about the matter.
“America is right to expect the worst of Bill Barr, who has repeatedly interfered in criminal investigations on Trump’s behalf,” Nadler tweeted. “We have a hearing on this topic on Wednesday. We welcome Mr. Berman’s testimony and will invite him to testify.”
California Rep. Ted Lieu also weighed in.
“Wow, not only is US Attorney for SDNY Geoffrey Berman not resigning, he went out of his way to say that SDNY’s investigations and important cases will continue unimpeded,” he tweeted. “Was Bill Barr of @TheJusticeDept trying to obstruct an investigation or case by attempting to fire him?”