In a press release this week, Attorney General Bill Barr announced that U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman would be stepping down, and announced his tentative replacement. Berman, however, had other plans.
According to the Washington Examiner, the U.S. attorney issued a statement of his own that made it clear he had no intention of voluntarily resigning from his post. That left Barr with no choice: he asked President Donald Trump to fire Berman — and that’s exactly what happened.
“I have not resigned”
In the statement on Friday, Barr described Berman as someone with “tenacity and savvy” who had “done an excellent job leading one of our nation’s most significant U.S. Attorney’s Offices, achieving many successes on consequential civil and criminal matters,” the Examiner noted. By the next day, however, it seems things had changed.
Berman posted a tweet Saturday asserting that he “learned in a press release” that he had supposedly decided to step down.
“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,” he wrote, according to the Examiner. “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.”
“Surprised and disappointed”
Barr released a letter later that day making it clear that he wanted the U.S. attorney removed.
“I was surprised and disappointed by the press statement you released last night,” the attorney general wrote, according to Business Insider. “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.”
He went on to accuse Berman of choosing “public spectacle over public service” by releasing his response to the earlier press release.
“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.
Explaining Barr’s decision to nominate U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton to the Southern District of New York (SDNY), a Justice Department source told the Examiner said Clayton had brought up the idea himself.
“He expressed interest in SDNY,” the unnamed official reportedly said. “The Attorney General thought it was a good idea. He offered Berman other positions, including head of the Civil Division at Main Justice. Berman declined. That’s that.”
Plenty of President Donald Trump’s critics are denouncing the move as an effort to halt ongoing probes into members of his inner circle. It remains to be seen, however, whether these detractors will be swayed by Trump’s assertion on Saturday that he was “not involved” in the decision, which he said was “all up to the attorney general,” according to ABC7 in New York.