The former federal prosecutor who was dismissed after he refused to step down did not reveal any wrongdoing or criminality during Attorney General William Barr’s interactions with the prosecutor, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said on Friday.
Jordan, the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, released the key take aways of the testimony of Geoffrey Berman, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY), who appeared before committee members on Thursday in a closed-door hearing. During the hearing, Berman recounted how Barr repeatedly attempted to urge him to step down from his post in order to make way for Jay Clayton, who is currently the Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), to ascend to the position.
Following the hearing, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, told reporters that he was unsure whether the attorney general’s conduct was criminal but added, “that kind of quid pro quo is awfully close to bribery.”
Jordan disputed the Democrats’ characterization of the testimony, saying that the interview with Berman “uncovered no evidence of misconduct, wrongdoing, or criminality.”
“The interview uncovered no nefarious plot to stifle ongoing investigations in the Southern District of New York or anywhere else,” Jordan wrote in the summary addressed to Republican members of the committee (pdf).
The top Republican member of the committee added that Berman did not testify about any specific inappropriate actions taken by any Justice Department official between June 19 and 20, nor did he provide insight for Barr’s reasons for removing him.
“Berman testified that he did not know what Barr’s reasons were for having him removed,” Jordan wrote. The lawmaker added that Berman also “never suggested the prospect of a quid pro quo concerning his duties as U.S. Attorney for the SDNY.”
“Although Berman briefly suggested that he thought the Attorney General’s offer for a different position could be considered a quid pro quo, the evidence does not support an exchange of any real value,” he wrote.
Berman’s refusal to step down from his position last month became a public spectacle, resulting in the intervention of President Donald Trump, who granted Barr’s request to dismiss the defiant prosecutor.
In a prepared statement (pdf) provided by Berman to lawmakers, the former federal prosecutor admitted to repeatedly resisting Barr’s attempt to coax him into accepting other leadership positions, including the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division and the chairmanship of the SEC.
He said he resisted the attorney general’s attempts because “there were important investigations in the office that I wanted to see through to completion.” Some of the investigations Berman was leading include the prosecution against sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, before Epstein committed suicide in jail, and probes into Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, and Rudy Giuliani, the president’s current lawyer.
Jordan’s version of the key takeaways also detailed how Berman expressed concerns about Barr’s initial choice of Craig Carpenito, the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, as interim replacement for Berman during Clayton’s confirmation, and Berman’s belief that he could not be lawfully removed by the president.
The attorney general had previously defended his decision to dismiss Berman from his role, saying that it was simply a “personnel action.”
“The president had never made an appointment to that office. Geoffrey Berman was interim. He was appointed by the court as a temporary U.S. attorney holding the fort. He was living on borrowed time from the beginning. And when a really strong, powerful candidate raised his hand, that is Jay Clayton, currently the chairman of the SEC, a prominent New York lawyer from Sullivan and Cromwell, very well-known and highly regarded, an independent, and he said that he was prepared to leave the government, was going back up, wanted to go back up to New York but very much would desire this job, I view that as an opportunity to put in a very strong person as a presidential appointment to that office,” Barr told NPR in an interview in June.
Barr faced intense scrutiny by Democrat lawmakers following Berman’s dismissal, which triggered discussions among House Democrats about initiating an impeachment inquiry against him. The attorney general is scheduled to appear before the committee on July 28 for a DOJ oversight hearing, where it is expected that he would be asked about Berman’s firing.