Trump has fired prosecutor investigating Giuliani, says US AG

Barr ‘surprised and quite disappointed’ by Berman statement in which he refused to quit

Fired: US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman. Photograph: Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty

Fired: US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman. Photograph: Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty

 

US attorney general William Barr said on Saturday that President Donald Trump had fired Geoffrey Berman, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan whose office is investigating Mr Trump’s attorney Rudolph Giuliani, after Mr Berman had publicly refused late on Friday to step down from his post.

In a letter to Mr Berman, Mr Barr said he was “surprised and quite disappointed” by the former’s late-night public statement in which he refused to quit his job, adding Mr Berman had made a “public spectacle over public service”.

Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who is part of the legal team representing Reza Zarrab, a Turkish gold trader jailed in Manhattan on charges of conspiring to violate the American sanctions on Iran. Photograph: Kevin Hagen/New York Times
Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani: Geoffrey Berman's office is investigating the man who is Donald Trump's personal lawyer. File photograph: Kevin Hagen/New York Times

“I have asked the President to remove you as of today, and he has done so,” Mr Barr said, adding that Audrey Strauss, the deputy United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, will become the acting United States attorney until a permanent replacement is installed.

Mr Berman’s termination marks another remarkable development in an escalating crisis at the Justice Department that started on Friday night, when Mr Barr unexpectedly announced that Mr Berman was stepping down and would be replaced by US Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Jay Clayton.

Mr Berman, however, issued a statement of his own, saying he had no intention of stepping down until the Senate confirms his successor.

Mr Berman’s statement set up a dramatic confrontation within the justice department over the high-profile position in a year in which Mr Trump is seeking reelection.

“I learned in a press release from the Attorney General tonight that I was ‘stepping down’ as United States Attorney. 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,” Mr Berman had stated on Friday.

Mr Berman said that until a presidentially appointed nominee was confirmed by the Senate, the office’s “investigations will move forward without delay or interruption”.

Took on powerful figures

Since being appointed to the post in January 2018, Mr Berman has not shied away from taking on powerful figures in Mr Trump’s orbit.

He oversaw the prosecution of Michael Cohen, Mr Trump’s former personal lawyer, indicted two Giuliani associates and launched an inquiry into Mr Giuliani in connection with his efforts to dig up dirt in the Ukraine on Mr Trump’s political adversaries.

US attorney general William Barr leaves his house in McClean, Virginia, hours before issuing a letter to Congress summarising the Mueller report. Photograph: Joshua Roberts/Reuters
US attorney general William Barr: “I have asked the President to remove you as of today, and he has done so."  File photograph: Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Mr Berman, who served on Mr Trump’s transition team, had replaced Preet Bharara, who was himself fired soon after Mr Trump became president.

Mr Bharara said the timing and manner of the move to replace Mr Berman was strange.

“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?” Mr Bharara wrote on Twitter.

Mr Clayton, a former Wall Street lawyer seen as a bipartisan consensus-builder during his time leading the SEC, also could not immediately be reached for comment. – Reuters