Minutes after U.S. Attorney General William Barr wrote in a letter to New York Southern District’s U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman that he would be fired from his role after refusing to step down, a move ordered on behalf of Donald Trump, the president contradicted his statement.
Barr wrote he was “surprised and quite disappointed” after Berman refused to step down. “Unfortunately, you have chosen public spectacle over public service. 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.”
Trump on firing of Geoffrey Berman: "I'm not involved." (AG Barr says Trump gave the order to fire Berman.) pic.twitter.com/EVv6k5g9Zv
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) June 20, 2020
However, after Trump arrived in Tulsa for his political rally on June 20, he told reporters that “I’m not involved” with Berman getting fired.
“Well that’s all up to the attorney general,” 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.”
At around 6 p.m. ET on Saturday, Berman officially conceded his role. According to MSNBC’s Ali Velshi, he said, “In light of A.G. Barr’s decision to respect the normal operation of law and have Deputy U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss become Acting U.S. Attorney, I will be leaving the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, effective immediately.”
New York Senator Chuck Schumer responded to this latest development on Twitter. He tweeted, “Bill Barr seems panicked and unusually sloppy in his actions. Something very deeply wrong must be going on, and we must get to the bottom of it.”
Barr Explicitly Details the President’s Involvement in Berman’s Removal in His Letter Published on June 20
In Barr’s letter, he wrote that the “president may, at any time, remove the judicially appointed United States Attorney”); see also United States v. Hilario, 218 F.3d 19, 27 (1st Cir. 2000) (same). Indeed, the court’s appointment power has been upheld only because the Executive retains the authority to supervise and remove the officer.”
Barr further explained that “when the Department of Justice advised the public of the President’s intent to nominate your successor, I had understood that we were in ongoing discussions concerning the possibility of your remaining in the Department, or Administration in one of the other senior positions we discussed… While we advised the public that you would leave the US Attorney’s office in two weeks, I still hoped that your departure would be amicable.”
On Friday Night, Berman Put Out a Firm Statement Contradicting Barr’s Announcement That He was Stepping Down as U.S. Attorney
— US Attorney SDNY (@SDNYnews) June 20, 2020
After Barr’s announcement on Friday night that Berman would be resigning, Berman put out a statement saying that he was not stepping down from his role. Berman said that he was surprised as everyone to learn this news, as Barr’s announcement was the first time he heard of his intent to step down.
He said, “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.”
“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,” he added. “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.”
On Saturday, Berman showed up to work at his office in New York and said, “I’m just here to do my job.”
Berman’s office has overseen the prosecution of numerous Trump allies including his former lawyer Michael Cohen, who went to prison for lying to Congress, and Florida businessmen Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, associates of Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Guiliani, who were charged with campaign finance violations.