Trump Fired Federal Prosecutor Who Refused to Step Down, Barr Says

Trump Fired Federal Prosecutor Who Refused to Step Down, Barr Says
Geoffrey Berman, then-acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, speaks during a news conference in New York on April 23, 2019. (Mary Altaffer/AP Photo)
Janita Kan

A U.S. attorney who refused to step down from his role after being replaced has been fired by President Donald Trump, according to Attorney General William Barr.

Barr told U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) Geoffrey Berman in a letter on Saturday that he had asked the president to fire Berman following Berman’s declaration that he had no intention of resigning, against the Trump administration’s wishes.

“Unfortunately, with your statement of last night, you have chosen public spectacle over public service,” Barr said in the letter obtained by media outlets. “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.”

The attorney general also said Deputy U.S. Attorney Audrey Straus will take over the job until a permanent successor is in place.

The Justice Department (DOJ) did not immediately respond to The Epoch Times’ request for comment about the letter.

The letter comes after Berman contradicted Barr’s announcement that the attorney would be stepping down after serving 2 1/2 years in his post. The attorney general said in a press release on Friday that Trump intends to nominate Jay Clayton, who is currently the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, to serve as the next prosecutor for the SDNY office.
Following the announcement, Berman released a statement saying that he had learned about his resignation from Barr’s announcement and had no intention of leaving his position.
“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. I cherish every day that I work with the men and women of this Office to pursue justice without fear or favor–and intend to ensure that this Office’s important cases continue unimpeded,” Berman said in a statement on Friday evening.

Barr said in his letter to Berman that he was “surprised” and “disappointed” by Berman’s statement, adding that he had intended to continue discussions with Berman about the possibility that the U.S. attorney remains in a senior position in the department or administration.

The attorney general also noted that Berman’s statement “wrongly implies” that his continued tenure in the office is “necessary to ensure that cases now pending in the Southern District of New York are handled appropriately.”

“This is obviously false,” Barr wrote. “I fully expect that the office will continue to handle all cases in the normal course and pursuant to the Department’s applicable standards, policies, and guidance.”

Following Berman’s statement, several top Democrats weighed in on the situation, accusing the DOJ of interfering in SDNY investigations.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called for Clayton to withdraw his name from consideration from the position while urging DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz to launch an investigation into the DOJ’s move to replace Berman. Meanwhile, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said his committee is inviting Berman to testify this coming Wednesday.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) signaled on Saturday that he would not proceed with the nomination without the approval of Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).
“As to processing U.S. Attorney nominations, it has always been the policy of the Judiciary Committee to receive blue slips from the home state senators before proceeding to the nomination,” Graham said in a statement. “As chairman, I have honored that policy and will continue to do so.”
A blue slip is a piece of paper from a home-state senator that indicates whether they support a nomination.

Trump told reporters on Saturday shortly after Barr’s letter became public that he was not involved in the firing.

“That’s [Barr’s] department, not my department. But we have a very capable Attorney General. So that’s really up to him. I’m not involved,” Trump said.

Berman responded to Barr’s letter in a statement late Saturday, saying that he will leave his post at the SDNY office.

“In light of Attorney General Barr’s decision to respect the normal operation of law and have Deputy U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss become Acting U.S. Attorney, I will be leaving the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, effective immediately,” Berman said.

“It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve as this District’s U.S. Attorney and a custodian of its proud legacy, but I could leave the District in no better hands than Audrey’s. She is the smartest, most principled, and effective lawyer with whom I have ever had the privilege of working. And I know that under her leadership, this Office’s unparalleled AUSAs, investigators, paralegals, and staff will continue to safeguard the Southern District’s enduring tradition of integrity and independence.”

During his time in office, Berman led the prosecution against sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, before Epstein committed suicide in jail. He has not brought charges against any of Epstein’s associates despite widespread calls to do so.

Berman has also probed several people who were once close to Trump, including Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, and Rudy Giuliani, the president’s current lawyer.

Zack Stieber contributed to this report.
Article updated with President Donald Trump’s comments and Geoffrey Berman’s statement on the dismissal.
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