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GOP rallies around Trump after firing of Manhattan US attorney

Senate Republicans on Monday largely defended President TrumpDonald TrumpGraham: 'I could not disagree more' with Trump support of Afghanistan troop withdrawal GOP believes Democrats handing them winning 2022 campaign Former GOP operative installed as NSA top lawyer resigns MORE following his controversial decision this week to fire Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Senate Majority Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGOP acknowledges struggle to bring down Biden Senate GOP to face off over earmarks next week Biden outreach on infrastructure met with Republican skepticism MORE (R-S.D.) said Trump was within his right to fire Berman, who was involved in a number of politically sensitive investigations that touched on Trump and his advisers.

“It’s kind of like previous firings, I would say,” Thune said. “These people all serve at the pleasure of the president. My assumption is that whatever investigation is underway will be continued by the career staff there. The show will go on.”

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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 Berman would step down on Friday night. Berman then resisted that move and said he would not leave office to make way for Barr’s preferred replacement, Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton, who does not have any experience as a federal prosecutor.

Trump then formally fired Berman, but not before Berman was able to pick Deputy U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss as his acting successor. Barr’s agreement to this was a factor in Berman stepping away instead of fighting the move in court.

It is believed that Strauss will carry on the investigations that may have unsettled the White House. These include an investigation into the president’s personal lawyer 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, and a probe into Halkbank, a state-run Turkish bank that former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonHillicon Valley: Facebook Oversight board to rule on Trump ban in 'coming weeks' | Russia blocks Biden Cabinet officials in retaliation for sanctions Russia blocks key Biden Cabinet officials from entering in retaliation for sanctions The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - US vaccine effort takes hit with Johnson & Johnson pause MORE alleges that Trump may be trying to shield from prosecution.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynMedia complicity in rise of the 'zombie president' conspiracy Trump looms over Senate's anti-Asian hate crimes battle Senators in the dark on parliamentarian's decision MORE (R-Texas) dismissed the criticism of Trump’s intervention into the Southern District as the latest “tempest in a teapot.”

“Everything the president does generates controversy. Everything the attorney general does generates controversy. That doesn’t mean it’s warranted,” he said. “Clearly the attorney general and the president are within their rights.”

Asked about a possible conflict of interest in Berman’s dismissal, Cornyn said there’s no evidence of that.

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“I’m not aware of the fact that he’s investigating Giuliani but if he is, the Department of Justice is capable of continuing that without Mr. Berman.”

Cornyn said he has “no idea” why Berman was fired but doesn’t think Trump owes the public an explanation.

There have been some signs of GOP unease at Barr’s and Trump’s maneuvering.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham: 'I could not disagree more' with Trump support of Afghanistan troop withdrawal Wall Street spent .9B on campaigns, lobbying in 2020 election: study Biden aide: Ability to collect daily intel in Afghanistan 'will diminish' MORE (R-S.C.) announced Saturday he would not move Clayton’s nomination through his committee until he receives blue-slip signoffs from Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck Schumer'Building Back Better' requires a new approach to US science and technology Pew poll: 50 percent approve of Democrats in Congress Former state Rep. Vernon Jones launches challenge to Kemp in Georgia MORE (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandIntelligence leaders warn of threats from China, domestic terrorism Jon Stewart accuses VA of being 'an obstacle' to burn pits medical care Family policy that could appeal to the right and the left MORE (D-N.Y.). Schumer announced Monday afternoon he would not give the nominee a green light.

It had long been tradition in the Senate that a judicial nomination would only go forward if the two senators from the nominee’s home state submitted blue-slip documents signing off, although the practice has waned in recent years amid growing partisan tensions.

“It applies to U.S. attorneys and district court judges,” Graham said Monday. “That’s been the tradition of the committee for as long as I can remember. We’ll keep that in place.”

He acknowledged Berman’s firing was “inartful,” but didn’t see anything necessarily improper.

“I just want to know is there anything [the president] did that would impede investigations, and I don’t think so,” Graham said.

One senator facing a tough reelection race this fall was more critical.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTrump looms over Senate's anti-Asian hate crimes battle Moderates' 0B infrastructure bill is a tough sell with Democrats OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senate confirms Mallory to lead White House environment council | US emissions dropped 1.7 percent in 2019 | Interior further delays Trump rule that would make drillers pay less to feds MORE (R-Maine) said Trump should not have fired the prosecutor in the midst of an investigation into his personal lawyer.

“While the president has the authority to fire U.S. attorneys, he should not have relieved Mr. Berman of his duties at this time,” she said in a statement.

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyBiden to hold second meeting with bipartisan lawmakers on infrastructure For a win on climate, let's put our best player in the game Personal security costs for anti-Trump lawmakers spiked post-riot MORE (R-Utah), a frequent critic of Trump who voted to impeach the president, said from the outside “it looks pretty swampy.”

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“I’m sure we’ll get more information as he speaks out,” he said. “I certainly hope that any investigations that were being pursued, particularly those that would relate to the president or donors or friends would be continue to be pursued.”

The White House also sought to distance Trump from Barr’s decision.

“The attorney general was taking the lead on this matter,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said during her press briefing on Monday. “He did come to the president and report to him when Mr. Berman decided not to leave, and at that point is when the president agreed with the attorney general.

“He was involved in a sign-off capacity,” McEnany said of Trump.

She also denied that Berman had been fired because of any of his investigations.

Another possible factor emerged Monday when The Wall Street Journal reported that Berman on Thursday had 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 OK’ing protests but not religious gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic. Two people familiar with the matter told the Journal that the incident compounded Barr’s existing frustration with Berman.

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Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerBiden looks to bolster long-term research and development McCarthy and Biden haven't spoken since election Instagram sparks new concerns over 'kidfluencer' culture MORE (R-Miss.) on Monday said it’s Trump’s prerogative to hire and fire U.S. attorneys and noted these types of dispute aren’t new.

Former President George W. Bush’s Justice Department sparked a storm of controversy in 2006 when it announced the sudden dismissal of seven U.S. attorneys.

“It’s always been the rule that the president gets to name U.S. attorneys,” Wicker added. “Generally speaking, this is the president’s call.”

Senate Republicans’ response to Berman’s ouster was significantly muted compared to their reaction to the president’s firing of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick last month.

Several Republicans, including Thune and Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGrassley: Iowa can't afford to be 'babysitting' unaccompanied minors Anti-Asian hate crimes bill overcomes first Senate hurdle On The Money: Senate confirms Gensler to lead SEC | Senate GOP to face off over earmarks next week | Top Republican on House tax panel to retire MORE (Iowa) at the time demanded a detailed explanation from Trump for the termination, which the president was required to provide to Congress under the 2008 Inspector General Reform Act.

Grassley, who was serving as chairman of the Judiciary Committee when Trump nominated Berman to the Southern District, on Monday said Schumer and Gillibrand had never returned blue slips on Berman’s nomination when the Trump administration advanced it in 2018.

“What I can’t figure out, the Democrats are talking about it and when he was nominated by the president, both Democratic senators said they weren’t going to return the blue slip. So, there’s a lot of hypocrisy,” Grassley said.