- President Donald Trump told reporters on Saturday he had nothing to do with the firing of Manhattan US attorney Geoffrey Berman.
- “I’m not involved,” Trump said, adding that the decision was “all up to the attorney general.”
- Trump’s statement came minutes after Attorney General William Barr sent a letter to Berman telling him that he’d been fired by Trump.
- But if Trump was not, in fact, “involved” in the decision to oust Berman, he may still be the US attorney for the Southern District of New York since Barr can’t unilaterally dismiss Berman, legal experts said.
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President Donald Trump told reporters on Saturday that he had nothing to do with Manhattan US attorney Geoffrey Berman’s firing.
“I’m not involved,” the president told reporters, adding that the decision was “all up to the attorney general.”
“That’s his department, not my department,” Trump said. “But we have a very capable attorney general, so that’s really up to him.”
Trump’s statement came minutes after Attorney General William Barr told Berman in a letter that Trump had fired him at Barr’s request.
“I was surprised and disappointed by the press statement you released last night,” Barr wrote in the letter. “As we discussed, I wanted the opportunity to choose a distinguished New York lawyer, Jay Clayton, to nominate as United States Attorney and was hoping for your cooperation to facilitate a smooth transition.”
Barr added: “When the Department of Justice advised the public of the President’s intent to nominate your successor, I had understood that we were in ongoing discussions concerning the possibility of your remaining in the Department or Administration in one of the other senior positions we discussed … While we advised the public that you would leave the US Attorney’s office in two weeks, I still hoped that your departure would be amicable.”
But Berman chose “public spectacle over public service” by releasing a statement saying he would not step down, the attorney general said.
“Because you have declared that you have no intention of resigning, I have asked the President to remove you as of today, and he has done so,” Barr wrote.
However, Trump’s assertion that he was “not involved” in the decision to dismiss Berman may complicate Barr’s attempt to oust him.
Neal Katyal, the former acting US solicitor general, wrote in a tweet that “Trump is saying he’s not involved, and that’s the only way Berman can be removed.”
“As I read the law, Berman is still the US Attorney for SDNY,” Katyal wrote.
“If Trump isn’t involved in firing Berman, then it looks like Berman is still the U.S. Attorney,” tweeted the former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti. “Barr doesn’t have the authority to fire Berman on his own. I’d like to take Barr at his word that Trump did, in fact, fire Berman. But Barr lied to us yesterday.”
The president’s comment was the latest twist after Barr abruptly announced late Friday that Berman would be “stepping down” from his role as the acting US attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Berman said Friday night that he learned of his apparent intent to step down from Barr’s announcement and had no knowledge of the decision beforehand.
“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.”
Berman also showed up to work on Saturday, telling reporters outside the SDNY’s main building that he was “just here to do my job.