WASHINGTON — Attorney General Bill Barr said Saturday that at his request, President Donald Trump had fired Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan.
The announcement came less than a day after Barr’s announcement that Berman planned to resign was followed by a defiant statement from the prosecutor that he had not done so, and had no intention of stepping down.
Barr said Saturday he had been “surprised and quite disappointed” by Berman’s response, saying he had “hoped that [Berman’s] departure could be amicable” and had believed there was still a chance he might remain within the administration in some capacity.
“Unfortunately, with your statement of last night, you have chosen public spectacle over public service,” Barr wrote. “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.”
Word of Barr’s announcement Friday night had caught senior officials in the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office off guard. His office prosecuted former Trump confidante Michael Cohen, though he was recused from involvement in the case.
Berman was also overseeing the investigation of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s business activities, and the prosecution of two Florida businessmen, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, former associates of Giuliani who were tied to the Ukraine impeachment investigation. Berman’s office filed charges last fall, accusing them of violating federal campaign finance laws.
“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,” Berman had said in a statement late Friday night, suggesting he would fight his removal from office.
“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. 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.”
Barr said again Saturday that Securities and Exchange Commission head Jay Clayton was expected to succeed Berman.
Democrats were sharply critical of the move, with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler tweeting Friday that “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,” said Nadler, D-N.Y., who represents parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn. “We welcome Mr. Berman’s testimony and will invite him to testify.”
Preet Bharara, who preceded Berman in the office was fired in the early days of the Trump administration tweeted, “Doesn’t sound like ‘stepping down.'”
He added: “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?”
On Saturday, Barr said Berman’s statement had “wrongly” implied that his leadership was necessary to ensure that pending cases would be handled appropriately: “This is obviously false,” wrote Barr. “I fully expect that the office will continue to handle all cases in the normal course and pursuant to the Department’s applicable standards, policies, and guidance,” and that allegations of interference should be flagged to the Department of Justice inspector general.
“The Inspector General’s monitoring of the situation will provide additional confidence that all cases will continue to be decided on the law and the facts,” he wrote.