Geoffrey Berman is the US Attorney heading up the Southern District of New York, arguably the most powerful federal prosecutorial corridor in America. The SDNY has broad leeway to investigate financial crimes, involve itself in NYPD investigations, and the SDNY office has been involved in the Jeffrey Epstein case (for which Berman is beefing with Prince Andrew). They’re also investigating Donald Trump’s businesses, his fake charities, his slumlording, his criminal enterprises, and his criminal co-conspirators. Berman’s office is involved in so much. So… yeah, of course it was shocking when out of nowhere (seemingly), Attorney General Bill Barr decided that Berman was “resigning.” Berman said, actually, he’s not resigning from sh-t. Friday Night Massacre?
House Judiciary Committee Jerrold Nadler is inviting Manhattan-based U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman to testify next week, following Attorney General William Barr‘s effort to fire him late Friday. “America is right to expect the worst of Bill Barr, who has repeatedly interfered in criminal investigations on Trump’s behalf,” Nadler said shortly before midnight Friday. “We have a hearing on this topic on Wednesday. We welcome Mr. Berman’s testimony and will invite him to testify.”
Nadler’s offer followed a late-night eruption inside the Justice Department, exposing a fissure between Barr and prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York — an office that has handled sensitive cases involving Trump’s business interests and close associates. Barr announced abruptly that Berman would be stepping down as head of the office, a post he was appointed to by federal judges following a lengthy vacancy.
“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 statement at around 9:30 p.m. “With tenacity and savvy, Geoff has 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.”
Trump then announced his intent to nominate Jay Clayton, head of the Securities and Exchange Commission to succeed him. And Barr said Craig Carpentino, New Jersey’s U.S. attorney, would take over temporarily for Berman while Clayton’s nomination was pending. That would be a departure from past practice, Justice Department veterans said, noting that the usual procedure would be for a career prosecutor to assume the acting U.S. attorney role. But the unusual personnel moves quickly gave way to a full-blown crisis when Berman said he only learned of the personnel moves from Barr’s press release and had no intention of stepping down. Rather, noting that he was appointed by judges, Berman said he intended to stay until a permanent successor is confirmed. Until then, Berman said, his office would pursue its investigations “without delay or interruption.”
I’m including Berman’s full statement via tweet from the SDNY below. It was clear that this was Barr’s thing – Barr believes that the role of Attorney General of the United States of America is simply described as “mob lawyer to a mob president.” Barr honestly thinks he’s the wartime consigliere to Godfather Bigly. Obviously, the SDNY was dipping too close to comfort towards something Trump-related. I don’t believe this was about Prince Andrew – I can’t see Barr pulling this kind of move *just* to protect Epstein’s party prince procurer.
Oh, and after all of that ^^^ on Friday, guess what happened on Saturday? Trump fired Berman, then denied that he fired him. There were some legal scholars who argued that Trump would have to do it himself, that the AG couldn’t do it. Others argued that since Berman was approved by judges, he couldn’t be fired by Trump & Barr, but it happened anyway. Berman had ongoing investigations into Epstein, Prince Andrew, Rudy Giuliani and an unknown number of Trump associates. So no, this isn’t obvious at all.
— US Attorney SDNY (@SDNYnews) June 20, 2020
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?
— Preet Bharara (@PreetBharara) June 20, 2020
It's worth not losing sight of the fact that the Attorney General of the United States out-and-out *lied* in a written statement—and in a context in which there could have been little question to him that Berman would publicly call him out for doing so.
And he did it anyway. https://t.co/XUmsHPuXp4
— Steve Vladeck (@steve_vladeck) June 20, 2020
Photos courtesy of Backgrid, Avalon Red, Getty.