GOP rallies around Trump after firing of Manhattan US attorney

Senate Republicans on Monday largely defended President TrumpDonald John TrumpDavis: Supreme Court decision is bad news for Trump, good news for Vance Meadows trying to root out suspected White House leakers by feeding them info: Axios Pressley hits DeVos over reopening schools: 'I wouldn't trust you to care for a house plant let alone my child' 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 senators voice confidence over uphill Senate battle Senate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick Finger-pointing, gridlock spark frustration in Senate 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 BarrWe haven't seen how low it can go Trump lashes out at Toomey, Romney after Roger Stone clemency criticism GOP senator says Trump commuting Stone was a 'mistake' 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 GiulianiDavis: Supreme Court decision is bad news for Trump, good news for Vance Sunday shows preview: Coronavirus poses questions about school safety; Trump commutes Roger Stone sentence Nadler: Barr dealings with Berman came 'awfully close to bribery' MORE, and a probe into Halkbank, a state-run Turkish bank that former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonTrump flails as audience dwindles and ratings plummet Many Democrats want John Bolton's testimony, but Pelosi stays mum Trump envoy says US ready to talk to North Korea but rebukes Pyongyang counterpart MORE alleges that Trump may be trying to shield from prosecution.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCongress pulls punches on Russian bounties firestorm Democrats seek to tie GOP candidates to Trump, DeVos Texas lawmakers ask HHS to set up field hospital, federal resources in the state 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 says he will call Mueller to testify before Senate panel about Russia probe Romney blasts Trump's Stone commutation: 'Historic corruption' Lincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad 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 SchumerDemocrats blast Trump for commuting Roger Stone: 'The most corrupt president in history' A renewed emphasis on research and development funding is needed from the government Data shows seven Senate Democrats have majority non-white staffs MORE (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandDemocrats seek to tie GOP candidates to Trump, DeVos Democratic lawmakers call for expanding, enshrining LGBTQ rights The Hill's 12:30 Report: Fauci 'aspirationally hopeful' of a vaccine by winter 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 CollinsMore Republicans should support crisis aid for the Postal Service GOP senators voice confidence over uphill Senate battle Republicans considering an outdoor stadium for Florida convention: report 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 RomneyChris Christie: I wouldn't have commuted Roger Stone sentence We haven't seen how low it can go Trump lashes out at Toomey, Romney after Roger Stone clemency criticism 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 Coronavirus Report: Fauci says focus should be on pausing reopenings rather than reverting to shutdowns; WHO director pleads for international unity in pandemic response Trump calls New York City 'hellhole' after court upholds subpoena from city prosecutors NYPD retirements surge over 400 percent amid tensions with mayor 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 WickerSenate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick Bottom line GOP rallies around Trump after firing of Manhattan US attorney 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 GrassleyTrump administration to impose tariffs on French products in response to digital tax Big Ten moves to conference-only model for all fall sports Republicans considering an outdoor stadium for Florida convention: report 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.