Manhattan US attorney, who was investigating Trump allies, refuses to step down

Tribune Content Agency

NEW YORK — Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, who runs the office that prosecuted Michael Cohen and is investigating Rudy Giuliani, said Friday he would remain in his powerful post despite an announcement by Attorney General William Barr that he was resigning.

The head-spinning war of words erupted late in the evening between Barr, the nation’s top law enforcement officer, and Berman, who is overseeing investigations into Trump associates.

Barr said in a press release that Berman was “stepping down,” without further explanation.

Berman responded in his own news release — issued via his office — that Barr’s statement that he was stepping down was not true.

“I learned in a press release from the Attorney General tonight that I was ‘stepping down’ as United States Attorney. I have not resigned, and have no intention of resigning, my position, to which I was appointed by the Judges of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York,” Berman said.

“I will step down when a presidentially appointed nominee is confirmed by the Senate. Until then, our investigations will move forward without delay or interruption. I cherish every day that I work with the men and women of this Office to pursue justice without fear or favor – and intend to ensure that this Office’s important cases continue unimpeded.”

Berman was appointed interim U.S. attorney by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in January 2018. Under a rarely used statute, Manhattan federal judges then unanimously appointed him to his post for an indefinite period until the Senate confirmed his replacement.

That unorthodox path to his post will likely factor in a fight over whether Berman will keep his job.

The news shocked employees of the storied office, which is one of the most important within the Department of Justice.

The office — formally known as the Southern District of New York — is investigating Giuliani in connection with political corruption charges against the former mayor’s associates, including Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.

The Southern District prosecuted Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney — though Berman recused himself from presiding over that case for reasons that were never made clear.

Trump was infuriated by a raid on Cohen’s law office, which he called “a witch hunt” and “disgraceful situation.”

Berman’s predecessor Preet Bharara, who Trump fired shortly after taking office, knew something was up from the moment Barr made the announcement.

“Berman ‘stepping down’ is bull—it. He was fired,” Bharara tweeted. “Why does a president get rid of his own hand-picked US Attorney in SDNY on a Friday night, less than 5 months before the election?”

Bharara’s tweet came before Berman announced he hadn’t quit his job.

The Southern District won a guilty verdict in February against Michael Avenatti, the bulldog lawyer who became famous by representing porn star Stormy Daniels in legal battles with Trump.

Berman oversaw investigations of Trump’s 2016 inaugural committee and Jeffrey Epstein. He’d recently harshly criticized Prince Andrew for allegedly refusing to cooperate with an ongoing probe into Epstein’s enablers.

The only recent major news involving the office came through former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s tell-all book about serving in Trump’s White House. The Department of Justice on Saturday lost its fight in court to prevent the book from being published next week.

In the book, Bolton wrote that during a 2018 phone call Turkish President Recep Erdogan argued to Trump that the state-owned Halkbank was innocent of charges brought by the Southern District.

“Trump then told Erdogan he would take care of things, explaining that the Southern District prosecutors were not his people but were Obama people, a problem that would be fixed when they were replaced by his people,” Bolton wrote. “It was as though Trump was trying to show he had as much arbitrary authority as Erdogan.”

Craig Carpenito, the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, will serve as acting Manhattan U.S. attorney, Barr said in the release.

Trump will nominate Jay Clayton, currently Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, to replace Berman. The prospect of Clayton’s nomination in an election year was uncertain.

“I thank Geoffrey Berman, who is stepping down after two-and-a-half years of service as United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York,” Barr said in a news release. He added that Berman “has done an excellent job leading one of our nation’s most significant U.S. Attorney’s Offices.”


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