President Trump personally intervened to end an ongoing feud between Manhattan’s U.S. Attorney and Attorney General William Barr.
On Friday night, Barr sent out an email declaring that Geoffrey Berman – the U.S. Attorney for Manhattan – was resigning. Barr’s letter spoke highly of Berman and praised him for an excellent job done. “ I appreciate his service to the Department of Justice and our nation, and I wish him well in the future,” Barr wrote.
However, Berman quickly released a statement disputing Barr’s claim and said he had no intention of resigning. Berman’s refusal marked the beginning of a highly-publicized standoff between the attorney general and one of the nation’s most prominent prosecutors.
“I have not resigned, and have no intention of resigning, my position, to which I was appointed by the Judges of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York,” Mr. Berman said on Friday. “I will step down when a presidentially appointed nominee is confirmed by the Senate. Until then, our investigations will move forward without delay or interruption.”
JUST IN: AG William Barr responds to SDNY attorney Geoffrey Berman: "Unfortunately, with your statement of last night, you have chosen public spectacle over public service… I have asked the President to remove you as of today, and he has done so." https://t.co/hvcGp4ITzX pic.twitter.com/sdKw17jGow
— ABC News (@ABC) June 20, 2020
Barr quickly fired back at the Furman in a Saturday afternoon letter to Berman. “Unfortunately, with your statement of last night, you have chosen public spectacle over public service,”. Barr wrote. “Because you have declared that you have no intention of resigning, I have asked the president to remove you as of today, and he has done so.” A few hours after learning of the president’s decision, Berman said he would leave the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office immediately.
President Trump’s intervention put a prompt end to the U.S. attorney’s publicity stunt, but he said firing Berman was Barr’s decision. “That’s his department, not my department,” Trump told reporters on Saturday. “We have a very capable attorney general. So that’s really up to him. I’m not involved.”
During his tenure as the Southern District of New York’s U.S. Attorney, Berman oversaw several investigations into some of Trump’s associates. The office’s investigation into Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, resulted in a highly-publicized 2018 conviction. Berman’s team also conducted a probe into Trump’s inaugural committee, and the office is also investigating Rudy Guliani in an ongoing case. Trump critics argue that Berman’s firing was political retribution for such cases. However, Berman and Barr have had a strained relationship since Barr’s appointment in 2019. Barr was skeptical about Berman’s theories in several cases, and his criticism led to tensions between the two offices.
Berman’s former deputy, Audrey Strauss, will step in as acting U.S. Attorney. Ms. Strauss is a veteran attorney with experience in both government and the private sector. She will hold the position until a new appointment is confirmed. President Trump plans to nominate SEC Chairman Jay Clayton as Berman’s replacement, pending Senate confirmation.
Berman is officially out, but the saga surrounding his firing continues. Democrats are already arguing the Berman’s termination was politically-driven and called for an investigation into Barr’s oversight of the Justice Department. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said the firing was part of a “Trump-Barr scheme” to disrupt investigations coming out of the U.S. attorney’s Manhattan office. Sources close to the U.S. attorney’s office also say they believe the case will ultimately end up in a courtroom.