GOP rallies around Trump after firing of Manhattan US attorney

Senate Republicans on Monday largely defended President TrumpDonald John TrumpDeWine tests negative for coronavirus a second time Several GOP lawmakers express concern over Trump executive orders Beirut aftermath poses test for US aid to frustrating ally 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 ThuneThe Hill's 12:30 Report: White House, Dems debate coronavirus relief package The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Key 48 hours loom as negotiators push for relief deal Trump dismisses legal questions on GOP nomination speech at White House 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 BarrGOP lawmaker calls for Justice Dept. to probe international court Barr pulls over to thank pro-police rally in Virginia Trump: Yates either lying or grossly incompetent 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 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, and a probe into Halkbank, a state-run Turkish bank that former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonEx-Trump adviser, impeachment witness Fiona Hill gets book deal Hannity's first book in 10 years debuts at No. 1 on Amazon Congress has a shot at correcting Trump's central mistake on cybersecurity MORE alleges that Trump may be trying to shield from prosecution.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCOVID-19 bill limiting liability would strike the wrong balance From a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters Skepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal 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 GrahamSeveral GOP lawmakers express concern over Trump executive orders Graham says he appreciates Trump orders, but 'would much prefer a congressional agreement' Sunday shows preview: White House, congressional Democrats unable to breach stalemate over coronavirus relief 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 SchumerPelosi, Schumer slam Trump executive orders, call for GOP to come back to negotiating table Sunday shows preview: White House, congressional Democrats unable to breach stalemate over coronavirus relief Postal Service says it lost .2 billion over three-month period MORE (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandExpanding our health force can save lives and create jobs simultaneously Sanders offers bill to tax billionaires' wealth gains during pandemic Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic 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 CollinsCoronavirus deal key to Republicans protecting Senate majority From a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump's visit to battleground Ohio overshadowed by coronavirus 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 RomneyFrom a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters Tennessee primary battle turns nasty for Republicans NRCC poll finds McBath ahead of Handel in Georgia 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 BlasioThe 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 New York City adding 'key entry point' checkpoints to enforce quarantine 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 WickerThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: INOVIO R&D Chief Kate Broderick 'completely confident' world will develop a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine; GOP boxed in on virus negotiations Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers zero in on Twitter after massive hack | US, UK, Canada allege Russian hackers targeted COVID-19 vaccine researchers | Top EU court rules data transfer deal with the US is illegal Lawmakers zero in on Twitter following massive hack 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 GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyMcConnell goes hands-off on coronavirus relief bill GOP chairmen hit back at accusation they are spreading disinformation with Biden probe On The Money: Unemployment debate sparks GOP divisions | Pandemic reveals flaws of unemployment insurance programs | Survey finds nearly one-third of rehired workers laid off again 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.