SEC's Clayton demurs on firing of Manhattan US attorney he would replace

Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chairman Jay Clayton said Thursday that he first expressed interest in becoming the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York last weekend, but declined to say whether he knew that his potential predecessor would be fired to make that happen.

Clayton, an independent who has led the SEC since 2017, was nominated Friday by Trump to serve as the top prosecutor in the federal district covering Manhattan, a role considered by legal experts to be one of the most powerful positions in the Justice Department.

Clayton told a House subcommittee Thursday that he discussed becoming U.S. attorney for the southern district with Trump and Barr the weekend of June 12.

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“This was entirely my idea. This is something that I’ve been thinking about for several months as a possible continuation of my public service," Clayton said.
He also confirmed that he had been looking for a way to continue serving in the administration while returning home to New York, where he enjoyed a lucrative career as a partner at law firm Sullivan and Cromwell.

“I need to go back to New York,” Clayton told a House Financial Services subcommittee.

“This is something I've been talking about for a while, consulting with people as to whether this would make sense for me to continue in public service," he added. "This was first raised to the president the attorney general last weekend as something that I had wanted to do and they first became aware of it last weekend."

But Clayton declined to say whether he knew that then-U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman would be fired by Attorney General William BarrBill BarrOVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Key impeachment witness retires | Duckworth presses for information | Subpanel advances defense measure | Democrats press for end to military transgender ban DOJ to resume executions next week for first time in 15 years Tim Scott says he's talking with House Democrats about reviving police reform bill MORE on Friday. He also declined to reveal with whom else he discussed his nomination, asserting that “anybody I talked to about this was appropriate to talk to.”

While Barr said Friday that Berman would be resigning from the position set to be filled by Clayton, Berman denied that he had agreed to do so. The showdown prompted a wave of outrage from Democrats and some nonpartisan legal experts amid Trump’s ongoing purge of Justice Department officials involved in investigations of his political allies.

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The controversy around Clayton’s nomination may also derail his shot at being confirmed.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamLincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump backs another T stimulus, urges governors to reopen schools Democrats awash with cash in battle for Senate MORE (R-S.C.) said he will not hold a confirmation hearing for Clayton without the customary approval of each of New York’s two senators. Both New York Sens. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerA renewed emphasis on research and development funding is needed from the government Data shows seven Senate Democrats have majority non-white staffs Trump may be DACA participants' best hope, but will Democrats play ball? MORE (D) — the Senate minority leader — and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandDemocratic lawmakers call for expanding, enshrining LGBTQ rights The Hill's 12:30 Report: Fauci 'aspirationally hopeful' of a vaccine by winter The Hill's Morning Report - Officials crack down as COVID-19 cases soar MORE (D) have said they will refuse to do so and have called on Clayton to renounce his nomination.

Clayton appeared reluctant to discuss his polarizing nomination during a hearing ostensibly devoted to the SEC’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. He asserted that the nomination did not currently require his attention and he was focused exclusively on his duties as SEC chairman.

“That's a process that's way down the road. Whether in my current position and in any position I take, I commit to doing it independently, without fear or favor, and in the pursuit of justice,” Clayton said.

Clayton’s nomination marks a rare moment of political controversy for the mild-mannered SEC chairman. While Democrats and Republicans have disagreed with Clayton on policy, his morals and motivations have rarely been questioned by either side.

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“Now, Chairman Clayton you and I have had a really very productive relationship, even though we don't always agree, but I have to ask you some questions about this episode and your involvement,” said Rep. Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyNew York candidates left on hold as primary results trickle in New Jersey incumbents steamroll progressive challengers in primaries Nurses union warns of shortage in protective gear amid new coronavirus surge MORE (D-N.Y.), who represents parts of Manhattan.

Rep. Jim HimesJames (Jim) Andres HimesSEC's Clayton demurs on firing of Manhattan US attorney he would replace Democrats face tough questions with Bolton Democrats debate how and when to get House back in action MORE (D-Conn.), a former Goldman Sachs banker who said he’s known Clayton for nearly three decades, also vouched for the SEC chairman.

“If I were a senator contemplating your confirmation,” Himes said, “I would do my job and look at your qualifications, your history and your philosophies, but I would absolutely have no questions whatsoever about your reputation, your independence, or your integrity.”

And Rep. Ann WagnerAnn Louise WagnerSEC's Clayton demurs on firing of Manhattan US attorney he would replace Trump, GOP go all-in on anti-China strategy House passes massive T coronavirus relief package MORE (R-Mo.) called Clayton “a person of incredible integrity and character and highest of ethics.”

Updated at 2:41 p.m.