Recently, Attorney General Bill Barr pressured Geoffrey Berman out of his job as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Berman and his office had handled high-profile investigations like the case against Trump’s former longtime “fixer” Michael Cohen and the ongoing investigation into longtime Trump ally Rudy Giuliani. On Thursday, Berman testified privately to the House Judiciary Committee, and in his opening statement, he spotlighted Barr’s “unprecedented, unnecessary and unexplained” plan for the job of U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Geoffrey Berman testifies to Congress that AG Barr offered him the job as head of DOJ’s Civil Division, and THEN asked whether Berman had any civil experience. No way to run a government. https://t.co/GIlooiZnv5
— Barb McQuade (@BarbMcQuade) July 9, 2020
At one point, Barr issued a public statement claiming that Berman would be resigning, but at the time, he’d not agreed to do so, as he subsequently revealed. Berman subsequently stepped aside after Barr apparently enlisted the president to fire him directly.
Former SDNY US Attorney Berman’s opening statement for his closed-door House Judiciary Committee testimony: Barr told him to resign or he’d be fired. Berman told the AG he would not resign. The next day, Barr lied to the American people, saying Berman had decided to step down. pic.twitter.com/npkNPFUEGB
— Glenn Kirschner (@glennkirschner2) July 9, 2020
Berman explained in his opening statement to House Judiciary that the only hint of an explanation he’d gotten for why Barr ever asked him to step down in the first place was brazen favoritism for the president’s allies. He explains that he met with Barr on June 19, at which time the Attorney General abruptly asked Berman to resign and take another job at the Justice Department because Barr “wanted to make a change in the Southern District of New York.” Barr explained that the end goal was for Jay Clayton, who’d been serving as the Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, to take over the U.S. Attorney post, although Clayton had no previous experience handling criminal matters.
The fact that Barr gives Berman this utterly preposterous cover story *in private* makes the entire thing seem even sketchier than before. https://t.co/K4YASsg86p
— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) July 9, 2020
In his opening statement, Berman explains:
‘[Barr] said the move was solely prompted by Jay Clayton’s desire to move back to New York and the Administration’s desire to keep him on the team. I told the Attorney General that I knew and liked Jay Clayton but he was an unqualified choice for U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York because he was never an AUSA and had no criminal experience.’
Barr apparently did not care about Berman’s concerns about Clayton’s lack of experience, because he kept up with the pressure to get Berman off the job. Also — why on earth is a hiring decision for a role as important as a U.S. Attorney getting based on the fact that a Trump administration ally wanted to move to New York? A U.S. Attorney’s office is not a game! It’s not something that just anyone can do because they happen to want to live in the area and happen to be an ally of the ruling administration.
After the above, Berman went on to discuss some of the fallout following his initial refusal to resign. An initial Justice Department press release lying that he’d be stepping down included a statement that United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey, Craig Carpenito, would fill Berman’s role in a temporary capacity.
‘The appointment of Craig Carpenito as Acting U.S. Attorney, or anyone from outside of the Office, would have been unprecedented, unnecessary and unexplained.’
There have been concerns that Berman was pressured to step aside in the first place because the Trump team wanted to make their lives easier when it comes to certain investigations that the office has been handling.