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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 BarrPolice accountability board concludes that Seattle police officers used excessive force during encounters with protesters Trump hasn't asked Barr to open investigation into Bidens, McEnany says Seattle, Portland, NYC sue Trump administration over threat to pull federal money 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 GrahamGraham dismisses criticism from Fox Business's Lou Dobbs Texas and North Carolina: Democrats on the verge? Trump expressed doubt to donors GOP can hold Senate: report 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 SchumerGraham dismisses criticism from Fox Business's Lou Dobbs Lewandowski: Trump 'wants to see every Republican reelected regardless of ... if they break with the president' Democratic Senate emerges as possible hurdle for progressives  MORE (D) — the Senate minority leader — and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandInternal Democratic poll: Desiree Tims gains on Mike Turner in Ohio House race Hillicon Valley: Facebook, Twitter's handling of New York Post article raises election night concerns | FCC to move forward with considering order targeting tech's liability shield | YouTube expands polices to tackle QAnon Democrats question Amazon over reported interference of workers' rights to organize 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 MaloneyTrump, House lawyers return to court in fight over subpoena for financial records Safeguarding US elections by sanctioning Russian sovereign debt Fears grow of voter suppression in Texas MORE (D-N.Y.), who represents parts of Manhattan.

Rep. Jim HimesJames (Jim) Andres HimesOvernight Defense: Pentagon IG to audit use of COVID-19 funds on contractors | Dems optimistic on blocking Trump's Germany withdrawal | Obama slams Trump on foreign policy House panel urges intelligence community to step up science and technology efforts Hillicon Valley: House votes to condemn QAnon | Americans worried about foreign election interference | DHS confirms request to tap protester phones 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 WagnerEnergized by polls, House Democrats push deeper into GOP territory Democrats, GOP fighting over largest House battlefield in a decade Republican fears grow over rising Democratic tide MORE (R-Mo.) called Clayton “a person of incredible integrity and character and highest of ethics.”

Updated at 2:41 p.m.