Top prosecutor in New York City resigns after feud with Trump administration
WASHINGTON — An unusual standoff between Attorney General William Barr and Manhattan's top federal prosecutor ended Saturday when the prosecutor agreed to leave his job with an assurance that investigations by the prosecutor's office into the president's allies would not be disturbed.
U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman announced in an early evening statement that he would leave his post, ending increasingly nasty exchanges between Barr and Berman. President Donald Trump, meanwhile, had distanced himself from the dispute, telling reporters the decision “was all up to the attorney general."
The whirlwind chain of events began Friday night, when Barr announced that Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, had resigned. Hours later, the prosecutor issued a statement denying that he had resigned and saying that his office's "investigations would move forward without delay or interruption."
On Saturday morning, he showed up to work, telling reporters, “I’m just here to do my job."
The administration’s push to cast aside Berman set up an extraordinary political and constitutional clash between the Justice Department and one of the nation’s top districts, which has tried major mob and terrorism cases over the years and is investigating Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. It also deepened tensions between the department and congressional Democrats, who have accused Barr of politicizing the agency and acting more like Trump’s personal lawyer than the country’s chief law enforcement officer.
Only days ago, allegations surfaced from former Trump national security adviser John Bolton that the president sought to interfere in an investigation by Berman’s office into the state-owned Turkish bank in an effort to cut deals with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
In a letter made public by the Justice Department on Saturday, Barr said he expected to continue speaking with Berman about other possible positions within the department and was surprised by the statement he released.
“Unfortunately, with your statement of last night, you have chosen public spectacle over public service,” Barr wrote, adding that the idea that Berman had to continue on the job to safeguard investigations was “false.”
“Your statement also wrongly implies that your continued tenure in the office is necessary to ensure that cases now pending in the Southern District of New York are handled appropriately,” he wrote. “This is obviously false.”
Although Barr said Trump had removed Berman, the president told reporters: “That’s all up to the attorney general. Attorney General Barr is working on that. That’s his department, not my department." Trump added: “I wasn't involved.”
Barr offered no explanation for his action. The White House announced that Trump was nominating Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton, a well-connected Wall Street lawyer with virtually no experience as a federal prosecutor, for the job.
Berman initially planned to remain in his job until a replacement was confirmed, but he changed his mind late Saturday after Barr said he would allow Berman's second in command, Deputy U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss, to become acting U.S. attorney.
Berman said that led him to announce he would be leaving, “effective immediately.”
People familiar with the matter in the Southern District could point to no clear reason for Berman's removal, though they noted his job had always seemed in jeopardy and Berman was never given the sense that it was secure.
Berman's office also took actions on some important cases without first informing Washington. But the various investigations are ongoing and no charges seem imminent, said the people familiar with the matter, who weren’t authorized to publicly discuss the matter and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.cl