Ousted U.S. prosecutor says Barr urged him to resign-testimony

Elias Hubbard
July 11, 2020

"And when a really strong, powerful candidate raised his hand, that is Jay Clayton, now the chairman of the S.E.C., a prominent NY lawyer from Sullivan and Cromwell, very well-known and highly regarded, an independent, and he said that he was prepared to leave the government, was going back up, wanted to go back up to NY but very much would desire this job, I view that as an opportunity to put in a very strong person as a presidential appointment to that office", Barr told NPR in an interview in June.

Instead, Barr tapped Berman's hand-picked number 2, Deputy US Attorney Audrey Strauss, who is now leading the office until a permanent replacement can be confirmed by the US Senate.

The following day, Barr informed Berman in a letter that the president had removed him from his post.

Berman came to testify after Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., vowed to get to the bottom of what he called an obvious attempt by Trump to politicize the US attorney's office.

"The Attorney General said that if I did not resign from my position I would be fired", Berman told the Judiciary panel. The panel's Democratic majority is pursuing its investigation of the attorney general, who they say operates more like Trump's personal lawyer than the nation's top law enforcement official.

Berman said in his statement that he told Barr that he "knew and liked Jay Clayton" but he felt that Clayton was "an unqualified choice for U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of NY because he was never an AUSA and had no criminal experience". Barr is set to testify before the committee later this month.

Berman, who departed as his office continued a probe into President Donald Trump's personal attorney Rudolph Giuliani, was warned by Barr that if he did not leave and was sacked, it would "not be good for my resume or future job prospects", Berman said.

The Southern District, known for its high-profile prosecutions, is where Berman oversaw several ongoing investigations of Trump associates, including some who figured prominently in the House impeachment inquiry of the president.

He ultimately agreed to step down from his post, but only after being assured his office's probes of Trump's circle would continue.

The session comes as the Capitol remains partially shut down during the COVID-19 crisis.

Cohen was released in May, after serving 10 months for tax evasion, campaign finance fraud and lying to Congress.

Berman brought charges in October against two Giuliani associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, for allegedly scheming to funnel Russian money to Trump's campaign and to other Republicans.

A full transcript of Berman's testimony is expected to be released by the committee at a later date.

Berman, a Republican lawyer and donor to Trump, was tapped by the administration in 2018 as the USA attorney for SDNY.

"Sometime after 9:14 pm on Friday I became aware that DOJ issued a press released that I would be "stepping down".

Berman had worked from 1987 to 1990 for the independent counsel who investigated the administration of President Ronald Reagan in the Iran-Contra affair. He reportedly met with Trump before being assigned as the top federal prosecutor job in Manhattan. "And New York is one of the preeminent offices in the Justice Department". Berman issued his own statement saying he had "no intention of resigning".

Berman showed up for work Saturday morning. Barr, critical of the "public spectacle", announced Berman's firing. "That is the last time I spoke to the Attorney General or anyone on his staff".

The other side: Barr explained his position in a recent interview with NPR, saying Berman was "living on borrowed time from the beginning" because he was "interim" - "appointed by the court as a temporary USA attorney holding the fort". Preet Bharara, a former federal prosecutor appointed by President Barack Obama, announced that he was sacked in March 2017, shortly after Trump took office.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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