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Former Manhattan US Attorney Says Barr Repeatedly Pressured Him to Resign

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Former Manhattan US Attorney Says Barr Repeatedly Pressured Him to Resign

2020-07-10 10:08:55

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

Former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman let the cat out of the bag to lawmakers on Thursday. Many people felt there was something fishy in the way he "resigned," and was then "fired" by Donald Trump. He told the House Judiciary Committee a story of how he was repeatedly pressured to leave his post by Attorney General William Barr.

During the closed-door hearing, Berman told the story of a meeting with Barr at the Pierre Hotel in New York, according to his prepared opening statement that was viewed by The Washington Post. He was called to the meeting without much of an explanation.

Barr asked Berman to resign during the meeting, according to his statement. "There were sandwiches on the stable, but nobody ate," he said. He told Barr he wouldn't step down and asked him if he wasn't satisfied with his performance in his position as Manhattan U.S. attorney.

"He said that he was not at all dissatisfied," Berman wrote. He added that Barr told him that the shakeup was "solely prompted by [Securities and Exchange Commission chairman] Jay Clayton's desire to move back to New York and the administration's desire to keep him on the team."

When Berman refused to go, Barr offered him other jobs, including as the head of the Justice Department's civil division in Washington, according to the statement. Barr told him that "if I did not resign from my position, I would be fired" and that being fired "would not be good for my resumé."

"I told him that while I did not want to get fired, I would not resign," said Berman in his statement. "I told the attorney general that there were important investigations in the office that I wanted to see through to completion."

The meeting took place on a Friday, and later, at 9:15 p.m., Barr announced that Berman had stepped down. Berman told the House committee, "That statement was false."

He said he spoke with Barr on his cell phone at 7:21 p.m. He said he wanted to wait until Monday to have a final conversation with him. It would give him time to discuss Barr's suggestion with his senior staff. Barr refused to allow him that and said he would call Saturday, but according to Berman, he never did.

Trump nominated Clayton to fill Barr's post, but it's unknown whether he'll be confirmed by the Senate. Sente Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said he wouldn't put the nomination through without the support of New York's two Democratic senators: Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. Schumer has asked Clayton to withdraw his name from consideration.

The House Judiciary Committee is investigating what it sees as Barr's interference in criminal cases as well as his politicization of the DOJ. There have been many questionable situations the DOJ has been involved in over the past year – the fingers always point back to the attorney general.

Democratic lawmakers, as well as legal analysts, have suggested that Berman was being pushed out to block an investigation by Manhattan federal prosecutors into Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani as well as other presidential allies.

Judiciary committee member Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) said in an MSNBC interview that Berman didn't discuss any current investigations during his testimony on Thursday.

Audrey Strauss, Berman's former deputy, is now leading the Southern District of New York office on an interim basis. However, the DOJ had suggested Craig Carpenito, the U.S.attorney in New Jersey,  would become the acting U.S. attorney in Manhattan until Clayton was confirmed. Berman testified that this workaround "would have been unprecedented, unnecessary, and unexplained."

Barr and his associates maintain that while Barr was growing frustrated with Berman, finding him to be obstinate and not a team player, there wasn't a single reason for pushing him out. Barr has said he authorized the DOJ's inspector general to review any claims of improper interference.

On Wednesday, Barr said in an ABC News interview that any suggestions Berman was fired in connection with an ongoing case were ludicrous.

"Anyone who knows the department knows that, even if one were interested in trying to influence a case, you wouldn't do it by removing the head of the office," said Barr. "That's simply not how the Southern District of New York or the department as a whole operates." 

Berman admitted he initially called attorneys t o represent him in his private capacity, as he considered challenging his dismissal in court but decided against it.

 

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