Since being acquitted in his impeachment trial, Donald Trump has undertaken a slow-moving purge of officials deemed insufficiently loyal to him and his administration. There was intelligence community inspector general Michael Atkinson, who alerted Congress of the whistleblower complaint about Trump’s call with the president of Ukraine, and was ousted on a Friday night in April. And State Department inspector general Steve Linick, who was at the time investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, was given the axe on a Friday evening last month. Then, late Friday, Attorney General William Barr announced that Geoffrey Berman, one of the nation’s most powerful federal prosecutors, would be stepping down from his role—but Berman isn’t going quietly.
Barr’s office issued a press release announcing that Berman would be “stepping down after two-and-a-half years of service as United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York,” and that SEC chairman Jay Clayton, who’s never before served as a prosecutor, will be nominated as as Berman’s replacement. But Berman released a statement in turn, vowing to stay in his job, at least for now. “I have not resigned, and have no intention of resigning, my position,” wrote Berman. “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.”
CBS reports that Berman and Barr met in New York Friday, and that the Attorney General asked for Berman’s resignation. Berman reportedly refused to quit.
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Berman has long attracted the ire of the Trump administration with his office’s investigations of the president and his associates. The Southern District of New York subpoenaed Trump’s inaugural committee as part of what ProPublica called “a wide-ranging investigation into possible money laundering, illegal contributions and cash-for-access schemes.” Berman is a Republican and a Trump administration appointee, but his office is so well-known for its political independence that it’s earned the nickname the “Sovereign District of New York.”
Last fall, Berman’s office indicted Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, associates of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, for violations of campaign finance law, and prosecuted another Trump lawyer, Michael Cohen, for charges that included lying to Congress. After being indicted, both Parnas and Cohen flipped, with Parnas giving Congress documents supporting the impeachment inquiry’s allegations of Trump administration quid pro quo with Ukraine, and Cohen testifying about his role as the president’s fixer.
In response to the attempted ouster, House Judiciary chair Larry Nadler tweeted that he will invite Berman to testify during the committee’s investigation into the politicization of Barr’s Justice Department. And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called on Clayton to his withdraw his nomination. “This late Friday night dismissal reeks of potential corruption of the legal process,” Schumer tweeted. “What is angering President Trump? A previous action by this U.S. Attorney or one that is ongoing?”
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