President Donald Trump has fired a top U.S. attorney — but the federal prosecutor isn’t leaving his post without a fight.
According to ABC News, Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY), learned of his ouster from Attorney General Bill Barr this week. A statement from a Justice Department spokesperson indicated that Berman was asked to resign and offered “other positions” with the DOJ, but that the U.S. attorney declined.
According to ABC, Berman “was subsequently fired.”
“Refusing to leave”
ABC reports that Trump plans to replace Berman with Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) official Jay Clayton. In their statement, the Justice Department spokesperson told ABC that Barr “has known Jay Clayton for years and holds him in high regard.”
“Jay was getting ready to leave the administration and go back to New York. He expressed interest in SDNY. The attorney general thought it was a good idea,” the spokesperson reportedly said. “He offered Berman other positions, including head of the Civil Division at Main Justice. Berman declined. That’s that.”
But while the Justice Department may feel the case is settled, it’s not over yet. NBC News reports that Barr said “Craig Carpenito, the United States Attorney in New Jersey, will serve as acting U.S. attorney in New York” in the interim, but according to The New York Times, Berman “was refusing to leave his position on Saturday after [Barr] tried to fire him, setting up an extraordinary standoff.”
Indeed, the U.S. Attorney released a statement on Twitter on Saturday indicating that he won’t be stepping down — at least not yet. “I have not resigned, and have no intention of resigning, my position,” Berman wrote, according to reports. “I will step down when a presidentially appointed nominee is confirmed by the Senate.”
— US Attorney SDNY (@SDNYnews) June 20, 2020
ABC News reports that Berman has held his post with the SDNY for roughly two years, and has overseen cases involving Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former personal attorney; Jeffrey Epstein, the infamous sex offender and financier; and two associates of Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York and Trump ally who is also currently being investigated by Berman’s office. But it isn’t just these probes that have critics questioning Trump’s timing.
As The Washington Post notes, Berman’s firing comes just ahead of the release of a tell-all memoir from former Trump National Security Adviser John Bolton. In his book, Bolton allegedly reveals a conversation that took place between Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who, according to Bolton, proclaimed to Trump the innocence of a Turkish firm that is currently being investigated by Berman’s office.
Trump responded, Bolton alleges, by telling the Turkish president that “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,” as The New York Times reported.
According to ABC, Berman was appointed by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions back in 2018 as an acting replacement for former U.S. Attorney General Preet Bharara. When Trump failed to formally nominate Berman — or anyone else — over the next four months, the district court gave Berman the position permanently, ABC noted.
Bharara, for his part, sees Berman’s firing as a repeat of history, The Hill reported.
deja vu https://t.co/DXqtrzMsxD
— Preet Bharara (@PreetBharara) June 20, 2020
Only time will tell how the situation plays out from here. According to ABC, the law allows Berman to remain in his position until it is formally filled. But given the high-profile nature of his ouster — and its potential impact on Trump’s public perception ahead of November’s highly anticipated election — it would probably be smart for Berman to start polishing up his resume.