Attorney General Says Trump Fired US Attorney Geoffrey Berman After He Refused To Resign

Saturday, June 20th 2020, 3:59 pm
By: CBS News

Attorney General William Barr on Saturday said President Trump had fired Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York who had investigated some of Mr. Trump's associates. Barr had announced late Friday that Berman would be stepping down, but Berman said in a statement shortly afterward that "I have not resigned" and that he learned that he was "stepping down" via a press release.

In a letter to Berman on Saturday, Barr wrote that he was "surprised and quite disappointed" after seeing Berman's comments. "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," Barr wrote. "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."

Shortly before departing for a rally in Tulsa, Mr. Trump told reporters he was "not involved" in the situation. 

"Well that's all up to the attorney general," Mr. Trump said. "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."

An individual familiar with the events told CBS News that Barr had met with Berman on Friday in New York and asked him to resign. Berman said no. In his letter on Saturday, Barr said they had discussed that Barr "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."

Later in the day on Friday, Barr said in a statement released by the Justice Department that Berman was stepping down. But then Berman issued a statement saying "I have not resigned." 

"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's office investigated Michael Cohen, Mr. Trump's longtime personal lawyer who pleaded guilty in November 2018 to charges of lying to Congress, and Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two associates of Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani, another personal attorney for Mr. Trump, was the attorney for the Southern District of New York from 1983 until 1989.  

Berman also oversaw the investigation into convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, who died in an apparent suicide in jail while facing federal sex trafficking charges. 

Earlier Friday, Barr said that Mr. Trump intended to nominate Clayton, the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, for the role. 

Berman was appointed to be the interim United States attorney in Manhattan by former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, although Mr. Trump never sent Berman's nomination to the Senate. After 120 days, he was nominated by U.S. District judges. 

Berman's predecessor Preet Bharara, who held the position through the Obama administration, was fired when he refused to resign. "I did not resign," Bharara said on Twitter in March 2017. "Moments ago I was fired. Being the US Attorney in SDNY will forever be the greatest honor of my professional life."

Pat Milton and Andy Triay contributed to this report. 

First published on June 20, 2020 / 12:10 AM

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