Updated Jun 20, 2020 - Politics & Policy

U.S. attorney for Southern District of N.Y. resigns, after Barr says Trump fired him

Bill Barr

Barr in the Cabinet Room on June 15. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Geoffrey Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced he would resign on Saturday, after President Trump gave Attorney General Bill Barr the green-light to fire Berman in response to his initial refusal to resign. Barr said he requested that Trump fire him.

Why it matters: Berman has overseen a series of high-profile cases that worried and angered Trump and his inner circle, including probes into his campaign, former attorney Michael Cohen and hush money payments made during the 2016 presidential election cycle.

  • "The president’s move deepened a crisis over the independence of law enforcement and the president’s purge of officials he views as disloyal," the New York Times writes.

Driving the news: Trump told pool reporters while en route to Tulsa, Oklahoma that he was not involved in the decision to fire Berman that was announced in a letter from Barr on Saturday. Trump told reporters: "Well that's all up to the attorney general. Attorney General Barr is working on that. That's his department, not my department. But we have a very capable attorney general, so that's really up to him. I'm not involved."

  • Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton has been chosen as Berman's replacement. Berman told reporters earlier on Saturday, "I'm just here to do my job" while going to work, per AP.
  • Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Saturday that he plans to honor the veto power of Democratic New York senators over the administration's nomination of Clayton.
  • House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) announced an investigation into the incident on Saturday, saying it would fit "as part of our broader investigation into Barr’s unacceptable politicization of the Department of Justice." The Committee will hear from two whistleblowers to explain why Barr’s attempt to fire Berman is part of an ongoing pattern of conduct.

What he's saying: "I was surprised and quite disappointed by the press statement you released last night," Barr wrote in a letter to Berman. "As we discussed, I wanted the opportunity to choose a distinguished New York lawyer, Jay Clayton, to nominate as United States Attorney and was hoping for your cooperation to facilitate a smooth transition."

  • "When the Department of Justice advised the public of the President’s intent to nominate your successor, I had understood that we were in ongoing discussions concerning the possibility of your remaining in the Department or Administration in one of the other senior positions we discussed, including Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division and Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission."
  • "While we advised the public that you would leave the U.S. Attorney’s office
    in two weeks, I still hoped that your departure could be amicable."
  • "Unfortunately, with your statement of last night, you have chosen public spectacle over public service. 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."
  • "By operation of law, the Deputy United States Attorney, Audrey Strauss, will become the Acting United States Attorney, and I anticipate that she will serve in that capacity until a permanent successor is in place."

The other side: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi endorsed Nadler's investigation into Berman's ouster on Saturday, saying: "Attorney General Barr was not truthful last night when he said that Berman was "stepping down."

"Last night, Attorney General Bill Barr told us that Geoffrey Berman of the SDNY had resigned—which was untrue. Today, Barr told us that the President asked him to fire Mr. Berman —which may also be untrue, given that the President says he had nothing to do with the decision.  The whole thing smacks of corruption and incompetence, which is what we have come to expect from this President and his Attorney General."
— Nadler's statement

Read Barr's letter:

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