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Trump and Barr's Attempt to Replace Manhattan Prosecutor Doesn't Go as Planned

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Trump and Barr's Attempt to Replace Manhattan Prosecutor Doesn't Go as Planned

2020-06-22 15:31:23

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Geoffrey Berman (Image source: Public domain)

Unbelievable to some, believable to others, Attorney General William Barr is once again interfering in the justice system instead of leading it. He's redacted the special counsel's report so much that no one could see anything of importance, has tried to dismiss a court case with a guilty plea that the special counsel spent three years pursuing, and now he has tried to remove a prosecutor who was investigating Donald Trump.

It didn't go well.

Barr tried to remove the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, from his seat. Berman did not go willingly, which complicated things. Trump was forced into firing Berman, and that prevents him and Barr from hand-picking the prosecutor's replacement.

Barr announced on Friday that Berman was resigning. He added that he would be installing a new acting U.S. attorney and would be nominating a new full-time prosecutor for the Senate to approve and confirm.

Berman has named Trump as a co-conspirator in the financial case of his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen. He's currently investigating the former mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani, another of Trump's personal attorneys.

This, perhaps, is Barr's most egregious move yet. There's no denying he's using his influence and position to help Trump — yet again.

However, Berman did something unexpected. He announced on Saturday he didn't resign. He said he'd continue to pursue his current investigations, which appeared to be recognizing that he thought Barr was trying to stop him from finishing his investigation of Giuliani.

It's not clear whether an attorney general has the authority to remove a U.S. attorney. However, he then sent Berman a letter saying that Trump had fired him. Trump seemed to dispute that, noting he was "not involved" and that it was up to Barr. Regardless, Berman agreed to step down.

While Berman was taken out, it seems that's not all Barr wanted. He had said initially he was replacing him with U.S. attorney Craig Carpenito, the acting head of the SDNY. But now that Trump has fired him, this means Berman's deputy, Audrey Strauss, becomes the acting U.S. attorney. This will hurt Barr and Trump, as she is most likely going to follow up and continue with the same cases Berman was working on.

It's not even known when Barr will be able to replace Strauss permanently. While Carpenito was to be the acting U.S. attorney, Barr had announced on Friday that his permanent replacement would be the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Jay Clayton. He doesn't have a lot of experience, though, which makes Republicans apprehensive.

Additionally, Senate Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said in a statement on Saturday that he would abide by the usual tradition of allowing senators from the prosecutor's home state to vet a U.S. attorney nominee. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) quickly rejected Clayton.

For now, at least Barr and Trump are stuck with Strauss, who is known as a tough prosecutor and who defeated Roy Cohn, Trump's mentor, in a mob prosecution.

Barr should have known from previous missteps, but it doesn't appear he has. It seemed like he was trying to sidestep the judicial process. And it's definitely problematic when the attorney general, the guy in charge of the Justice Department, is sidestepping the judicial process.

Even more telling, the removal of Berman does not seem to be because of his abilities. Barr offered him another job as the head of the Justice Department's civil division. 

Again, this may be Barr's most egregious. It just seems to confirm even more that he is doing Trump's bidding for him instead of presiding over the Justice Department.

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