Berman refused to criticize de Blasio over social distancing rules for religious gatherings, not protests: report

Geoffrey Berman, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, refused to sign a letter criticizing New York Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioDozens of state, local health leaders fired or resigned amid pandemic: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Key 48 hours loom as negotiators push for relief deal Overnight Health Care: Fauci says family has faced threats | Moderna to charge to a dose for its vaccine | NYC adding checkpoints to enforce quarantine MORE (D) for okaying protests but not religious gatherings a day before Attorney General William BarrBill BarrWillie Brown: Kamala Harris should 'politely decline' any offer to be Biden's running mate Barr: The left 'believes in tearing down the system' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Negotiators signal relief bill stuck, not dead MORE announced he would be replaced, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

Justice Department supervisors asked both Berman and Eric Dreiband, the head of the agency's civil rights division, to sign the letter, but after a brief back-and-forth, Berman objected to its characterization of de Blasio’s handling of the protests as a double standard and said signing the letter would hurt relations between the city and his office, the newspaper reported, citing people familiar with the matter. The letter was never sent.

It is unclear whether the episode contributed to the Justice Department’s removal of Berman.

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The agency announced late Friday that Berman would step down as U.S. attorney, after which Berman denied resigning, leading Barr to announce that President TrumpDonald John TrumpTeachers union launches 0K ad buy calling for education funding in relief bill FDA head pledges 'we will not cut corners' on coronavirus vaccine Let our values drive COVID-19 liability protection MORE had fired him.

The people familiar with the matter said Barr had no direct role in discussions over the letter with Berman. Justice Department officials and Barr associates denied Berman, who was reported to be investigating close Trump associates including Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiCoronavirus concerns emerge around debates Giuliani says Black Lives Matter is 'domestic terrorist' group Commission on Presidential Debates rejects Trump campaign call for earlier debate MORE, was removed over any single incident.

However, two people familiar with the matter told the Journal that the incident compounded Barr’s existing frustration with Berman. 

These sources told the Journal that Barr already viewed Berman as stubborn and difficult to work with. Barr had already been in search of a replacement for Berman and acted once he learned that Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton was interested in the position.

The Hill has reached out to the Justice Department for comment.