At the request of Attorney General William Barr, President Donald Trump fired U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman in Manhattan on Saturday, less than a day after the top prosecutor publicly disputed claims from Barr that he had resigned voluntarily.
As the New York Times reports, the firing “was the culmination of an extraordinary clash after years of tension between the White House and New York federal prosecutors.”
In a letter released by the Justice Department, Attorney General William P. Barr accused of Mr. Berman of choosing “public spectacle over public service” because he would not voluntarily step down from the position.
“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,” the letter read. Mr. Barr said Mr. Berman’s top deputy, Audrey Strauss, would become the acting United States Attorney.
Critics lashed out at the president for his overt — and seemingly corrupt — efforts to interfere with the independence of the Justice Department.
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“Trump is the most corrupt president in our lifetimes and we’re witnessing more evidence today,” tweeted Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont). “The DOJ is not meant to be a political tool of the president. Trump and Barr have utter contempt for the rule of law. Congress must initiate an investigation of this firing immediately.”
“Make no mistake,” said Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California) in reaction to the news, “Bill Barr will go down in history as having aided and abetted the most corrupt president this country has ever seen.”
In response to Friday’s night effort to force Berman out, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-New York), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, aimed his ire at Barr and indicated that congressional probe and hearings would be forthcoming.
“America is right to expect the worst of Bill Barr, who has repeatedly interfered in criminal investigations on Trump’s behalf. We have a hearing on this topic on Wednesday,” tweeted Nadler. “We welcome Mr. Berman’s testimony and will invite him to testify.”
After what he described as Trump’s “purported firing” of Berman on Saturday, Nadler released the following statement:
Last night, Attorney General Bill Barr told us that Geoffrey Berman of the SDNY had resigned—which was untrue. Today, Barr told us that the President asked him to fire Mr. Berman—which may also be untrue, given that the President says he had nothing to do with the decision. The whole thing smacks of corruption and incompetence, which is what we have come to expect from this President and his Attorney General.
Neither the President nor the Department of Justice have offered any explanation for Mr. Berman’s purported dismissal. We know that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York is engaged in investigations aimed at President Trump’s inner circle. We know, from revelations earlier this week, that the President wanted to have ‘his own people’ in that office to help him with his personal and political needs. And we know that, time and time again, Bill Barr has reached into ongoing criminal investigations in order to protect the President from their consequences. The American people are right to be outraged. Barr may sit in the office of the chief law enforcement officer of the United States, but he clearly cares very little about the law.
The House Judiciary Committee will immediately open an investigation into this incident, as part of our broader investigation into Barr’s unacceptable politicization of the Department of Justice. On Wednesday, the Committee will hear from two whistleblowers who will explain why Barr’s attempt to fire Mr. Berman is part of a larger, ongoing, and wholly unacceptable pattern of conduct. If the President removes Mr. Berman, then we will take additional steps to secure his testimony as well.
According to Politico reporting on Saturday, “White House officials have not responded to requests for comment on the unusual showdown between the attorney general and Berman, whose office has a long tradition of relative independence from Justice Department headquarters in Washington.”