Jun 20, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Graham says he plans to uphold Democratic veto power on influential U.S. attorney nomination

Lindsey Graham in a suit
Lindsey Graham (R-SC) attends a Judiciary Committee hearing on June 16. Photo: Tom Williams-Pool/Getty Images

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Saturday that he plans to honor the committee's "blue-slip" rule for the Trump administration's move to nominate Jay Clayton as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Why it matters: Graham holding to this policy — in a clash over one of the highest profile districts in the country — would mean that Clayton's nomination would not be able to advance without approval from home-state Democratic senators, per the Washington Post.

  • U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman, who has overseen high-profile investigations into President Trump's campaign and ex-associates, told reporters "I'm just here to do my job" while going to work on Saturday, per AP.
  • Berman said in a statement late Friday that he has "no intentions of resigning" after the administration nominated Clayton, the Securities and Exchange Commission chairman, to replace him. Berman said he will "step down when a presidentially appointed nominee is confirmed by the Senate."

What's new: After Attorney General Bill Barr announced Saturday afternoon that Trump had fired Berman — at Barr's request — Graham put out a statement in support of the decision.

  • "It is my view that any president has the ability to replace political appointees, such as U.S. Attorneys," Graham said. "I have confidence the Deputy U.S. Attorney, Audrey Strauss, who will assume the duties of Mr. Berman, will continue running SDNY in a professional and ethical manner."
  • In his previous statement, Graham said he had "not been contacted by the administration" on Clayton's nomination. "However, I know Mr. Clayton and believe him to be a fine man and accomplished lawyer," Graham said.

Details: A "blue slip" is an opinion written by a senator from the state where a federal judicial nominee lives.

The other side: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) issued a statement calling for Clayton to withdraw from his nomination: “Forty seven years ago, Elliott Richardson had the courage to say no to a gross abuse of presidential power. Jay Clayton has a similar choice today: He can allow himself to be used in the brazen Trump-Barr scheme to interfere in investigations by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, or he can stand up to this corruption, withdraw his name from consideration, and save his own reputation from overnight ruin."

    • Schumer also called for the Justice Department inspector general to investigate why Berman's dismissal was ordered.
  • House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) tweeted on Saturday: "America is right to expect the worst of Bill Barr, who has repeatedly interfered in criminal investigations on Trump’s behalf. We have a hearing on this topic on Wednesday. We welcome Mr. Berman’s testimony and will invite him to testify."
  • Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, tweeted: "Barr must testify. While I was chairman of @senjudiciary we had an annual AG oversight hearing. Barr last testified May 1, 2019. That’s multiple scandals ago. Either we live in a democracy with a government accountable to the people, or we don’t."
  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), the other New York senator who would have sway over Clayton's nomination, said in a statement: “I will not be complicit in helping President Trump and Attorney General Barr fire a U.S. attorney who is reportedly investigating corruption in this administration. Jay Clayton should withdraw his name from consideration immediately and remove himself from this sham.” 

Go deeper: U.S. attorney for Southern District of New York says he will not step down

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