Barr says Trump fired Manhattan US Attorney Berman
President Trump has officially fired a U.S. attorney in Manhattan who led multiple investigations involving his associates, according to Attorney General William Barr.
The Justice Department announced late Friday that it would replace Geoffrey Berman, a powerful prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, though Berman announced shortly afterward that he had no intention of resigning.
In a letter obtained by BuzzFeed News, Barr notified Berman that he asked Trump to officially fire him after his statement the night before in which he said he had not resigned and suggested he could not be removed until the Senate approved his replacement.
“Unfortunately, with your statement of last night, you have chosen public spectacle over public service,” Barr wrote. “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 said Berman’s statement had “wrongly” implied that his leadership was necessary to ensure that pending cases would be handled appropriately and said allegations of interference would be flagged to the inspector general.
“This is obviously false,” Barr wrote. “I fully expect that the office will continue to handle all cases in the normal course and pursuant to the Department’s applicable standards, policies, and guidance.”
Hours after Barr’s letter, Berman issued a statement saying he would leave his post, “effective immediately.”
It is unclear whether Berman will contest his ouster after leaving.
In the letter, Barr also says that Berman’s deputy, Audrey Strauss, will assume his position.
In his resignation statement, Berman said “I could leave the District in no better hands than Audrey’s.”
The Trump administration plans to nominate Jay Clayton, the current chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, to permanently fill the position.
Trump told reporters Saturday that he was “not involved” in Berman’s dismissal.
“That’s [Barr’s] department, not my department,” Trump said. “That’s really up to him. I’m not involved.”
President Trump: “We have a very capable attorney general.” pic.twitter.com/NmHixUUy9C
— The Hill (@thehill) June 20, 2020
The Department of Justice and Berman’s office did not immediately respond to an inquiry from The Hill.
Berman has investigated several Trump associates, including Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer who was imprisoned for campaign finance violations and lying to Congress.
Berman’s office has also been investigating former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the president’s current personal attorney, in a campaign finance case that has already produced charges against two Giuliani associates.
At issue are two conflicting federal laws: one that says a court-appointed attorney will serve “until the vacancy is filled” and another that says every U.S. attorney “is subject to removal by the President.”
In the letter, Barr writes, “It is well-established that a court-appointed U.S. attorney is subject to removal by the president.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) issued a statement Saturday that appeared to concur with Barr’s interpretation of the law.
“It is my view that any president has the ability to replace political appointees, such as U.S. Attorneys,” Graham said in a statement obtained by The Hill via email.
“The decision by President Trump to remove Mr. Berman as acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York falls within the president’s power to appoint or remove U.S. Attorneys,” he added.
In his Friday statement, Berman indicated that he believed the president can’t remove a court-appointed U.S. attorney and that only a Senate-confirmed official can take his place.
The original move to replace Berman on Friday drew harsh criticism from top Democrats in Congress, arguing that the decision to remove the Manhattan U.S. attorney was not made in good faith.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has called for an investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general, saying Berman’s dismissal “reeks of potential corruption of the legal process.”
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, announced Saturday that the committee will launch an investigation into Berman’s ouster and has invited Berman to testify.
Nadler and other Democratic lawmakers argue that the administration did not provide a sufficient reason for Berman’s removal, and have suggested that the administration is retaliating against him for his office’s investigations of Trump associates.
Updated 7:39 p.m.