Updated Jul 9, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Inside Geoffrey Berman's closed-door testimony

Geoffrey Berman arrives for testimony at Capitol Hill
Berman arrives on Capitol Hill Thursday. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Geoffrey Berman, the former top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, was expected to say in closed-door testimony today that Attorney General Bill Barr repeatedly urged him to take another job, warned him that getting fired would not be good for his resume or job prospects and steered him toward a high-level Justice Department post in DC.

Driving the news: Axios has obtained a copy of Berman's opening statement for his closed-door hearing before the House Judiciary Committee.

  • In the statement, Berman gives a detailed account of the conversations he had with Barr in the days and hours leading up to President Trump firing him from his post as the U.S. attorney for the powerful Southern District of New York.
  • The document also says that Barr told Berman that he should take a different job, running the Justice Department's Civil Division, because "the role would be a good resume builder" and would help him "create a book of business" once he returned to the private sector.

Details: Berman writes that on June 18 he received an email from a member of Barr's staff saying the Attorney General wanted to meet him the next day at the Pierre Hotel in New York. "I was not told the purpose of the meeting."

  • "The meeting took roughly 45 minutes and was held in the Attorney General's hotel suite...There were sandwiches on the table, but nobody ate."
  • Berman writes that Barr began the meeting by saying he wanted him to resign his position and take a job overseeing the Justice Department's Civil Division to clear the way for SEC Chairman Jay Clayton to be nominated to run SDNY.
  • Berman writes that he told Barr he liked Clayton but that he was an unqualified choice for SDNY because he had no criminal experience.

Why it matters: Berman writes that he told Barr "there were important investigations in the Office that I wanted to see through to completion."

  • Berman writes that after he signaled to Barr that he would not resign and would need to be forced out, Barr "added that getting fired from my job would not be good for my resume or future job prospects."
  • Berman writes that Barr told him he was thinking of other jobs for him in the Trump administration and asked whether he'd be interested in becoming Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. He said no.
  • Berman says he had a short call with Barr was at 7:21pm on Friday June 19th. He asked Barr if he would allow him to wait until Monday to have their final conversation. Barr said no and that he would call him the next day, Saturday June 20. "That is the last time I spoke to the Attorney General or anyone on his staff."
  • "Sometime after 9:14 pm on Friday I became aware that DOJ issued a press released that I would be 'stepping down'. That statement was false," Berman writes.

The other side: Barr explained his position in a recent interview with NPR, saying Berman was "living on borrowed time from the beginning" because he was "interim" — "appointed by the court as a temporary U.S. attorney holding the fort."

  • "Obviously all U.S. attorneys are appointed by the president and can be removed by the president," Barr said. "And New York is one of the preeminent offices in the Justice Department. The president had never made an appointment to that office.
  • "And when a really strong, powerful candidate raised his hand, that is Jay Clayton, currently the chairman of the S.E.C., a prominent New York lawyer from Sullivan and Cromwell, very well-known and highly regarded, an independent, and he said that he was prepared to leave the government, was going back up, wanted to go back up to New York but very much would desire this job, I view that as an opportunity to put in a very strong person as a presidential appointment to that office."
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