The U.S. attorney who oversaw key prosecutions of allies of President Donald Trump and an investigation into Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani has resigned following a public back-and-forth with Attorney General William Barr.
Earlier in the day, Barr said President Trump fired Geoffrey Berman, accusing the U.S. attorney of choosing "public spectacle over public service" by releasing a statement Friday night. The letter from Barr reads in part, "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."
Minutes after the firing was announced, Trump told reporters that the decision was Barr’s. “I’m not involved,” he said, seeming to distance himself from the move.
By 6 p.m. Saturday, Breman announced his decision to leave his position, effective immediately.
"In light of Attorney General 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," Berman said in a statement.
"It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve as this District's U.S. Attorney and a custodian of its proud legacy, but I could leave the District in no better hands than Audrey's," he continued.
Berman had showed up at his office to work early Saturday, defying the attorney general who abruptly acted hours earlier to oust the prosecutor. “I’m just here to do my job,″ he told reporters.
Late Friday night, Barr said in a statement that Berman was stepping down as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. That announcement came from the Justice Department, and not from Berman himself or his office.
However, about an hour later, Berman released a statement of his own saying that he had "no intention of resigning" the position which he has held since 2018. He said that he learned of his supposed resignation from Barr's press release.
"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," the statement from Berman said. The U.S. attorney said that he would step down after the Senate approves a nominee picked by the president.
"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," Berman's statement read.
Before the refusal to step down was released, Barr said Trump intended to nominate Jay Clayton, the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, to the post. The U.S. attorney in New Jersey, Craig Carpenito, would serve as the acting U.S. attorney in Manhattan, beginning on July 3, Barr said.
It was unclear why Berman would be leaving the position after serving for more than two years. The announcement, made late Friday, came after Barr visited New York City and met with local police officials there. Justice officials say Clayton is close with Barr and wanted the Manhattan job, and that Berman declined an offer to lead the Justice Department's Civil Division.
"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," the statement from Barr read. "I appreciate his service to the Department of Justice and our nation, and I wish him well in the future.”
Berman’s sudden resignation was likely to raise additional questions from congressional Democrats who have accused Barr of politicizing the Justice Department and acting more like Trump’s personal attorney rather than the nation’s chief law enforcement officer.
New York Rep. Jerry Nadler tweeted an invitation for Berman to come testify before the House Judiciary Committee, which he chairs. New York Sen. Chuck Schumer similarly voiced his frustration, saying the dismissal "reeks of potential corruption of the legal process," while wondering if the attempted ouster was done as retribution for a case Berman pursued or is pursuing.
The news comes just days after former national security adviser John Bolton claimed in his tell-all book that Trump promised Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan he’d interfere in Halkbank case that was being prosecuted in the Southern District.
The office has prosecuted a number of Trump associates, including Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, who served a prison sentence for lying to Congress and campaign finance crimes, and has also been investigating Giuliani and his associates.
Federal prosecutors in New York are investigating Giuliani’s business dealings, including whether he failed to register as a foreign agent, according to people familiar with the probe. The people were not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Berman, a Republican who contributed to the president’s election campaign, worked for the same law firm as Giuliani and was put in his job by the Trump administration. But as U.S. attorney, he won over some skeptics after he went after Trump allies.
He had recused himself from directly overseeing the Cohen investigation for reasons that were never disclosed. Three months later, FBI agents raided Cohen’s offices, an act the president decried as a politically motivated witch hunt.
Berman was appointed by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in January 2018, months after former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara was fired after refusing to resign along with dozens of other federal prosecutors appointed by President Barack Obama. Bharara himself sounded skeptical of the resignation, saying on Twitter it "doesn't sound like 'stepping down.'"
Berman has taken a direct hand in other investigations that have angered Trump.
His office subpoenaed Trump’s inaugural committee for a wide range of documents as part of an investigation into various potential crimes, including possible illegal contributions from foreigners to inaugural events.
And weeks before the 2018 midterm election, Berman announced insider trading charges against an ardent Trump supporter, Republican Rep. Chris Collins. Collins, who represented western New York, has since resigned.
Under Berman’s tenure, his office also brought charges against Michael Avenatti, the combative lawyer who gained fame by representing porn actress Stormy Daniels in lawsuits involving Trump. Avenatti was convicted in February of trying to extort sportswear giant Nike after prosecutors said he threatened to use his media access to hurt Nike’s reputation and stock price unless the company paid him up to $25 million.
The Southern District of New York is one of the nation’s premiere districts, trying major mob cases and terror cases over the years. If the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks had been tried in a court of law, it would have been there.