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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 BlasioUS cities beef up security ahead of Chauvin verdict Yang expands lead in NYC mayor race: poll Republicans need to stop Joe Biden's progressive assault on America MORE (D) for okaying protests but not religious gatherings a day before Attorney General William BarrBill BarrGarland rescinds Trump-era memo curtailing consent decrees Boehner: Trump 'stepped all over their loyalty' by lying to followers Dominion: Ex-Michigan state senator 'sowing discord in our democracy' with election fraud claims 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 TrumpDC goes to the dogs — Major and Champ, that is Biden on refugee cap: 'We couldn't do two things at once' Taylor Greene defends 'America First' effort, pushes back on critics 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 GiulianiGreitens Senate bid creates headache for GOP Gaetz hires legal counsel amid DOJ probe Georgia lieutenant governor: Giuliani election claims helped lead to new voting law 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.