‘No intention of resigning’: US attorney in Manhattan vows to resist Barr’s effort to oust him, continue probes

Tracking the milestones in Robert Mueller’s investigation can be tough, but if you’ve got three minutes, we’ve got a wrap-up of Michael Cohen for you.

USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — An extraordinary clash between Attorney General William Barr and Manhattan’s chief federal prosecutor continued to play out Saturday after Geoffrey Berman, whose office has managed a series of high-profile investigations into Trump administration allies, vowed to resist Barr’s abrupt effort to oust him and declared that ongoing inquiries would move forward.

“I have not resigned and have no intention of resigning,” Berman said in a statement late Friday night. “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.”

Berman’s statement came shortly after the attorney general announced that the prosecutor, who oversees the Justice Department’s most prestigious office, was “stepping down” to make way for President Donald Trump’s new nominee to lead the office, Jay Clayton, the current chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The New York prosecutor said he learned of the attorney general’s action when the Justice Department issued a press release late Friday. The practice has become increasingly common in the Trump administration, which has sought to purge its ranks of watchdogs and whistleblowers who have called attention to misconduct throughout the government, including the White House.

Closer look:  Who actually has the authority to fire Geoffrey Berman?[1]

The latest: Judge clears way for John Bolton to publish his book, rejecting Trump administration effort to block it[2]

Although Berman referred to ongoing “investigations” within the Southern District of New York, he did not elaborate on the nature of specific inquiries. Yet Barr’s announcement comes just days after former Trump national security adviser John Bolton revealed in a book that the president once sought to interfere[3] in an investigation of a Turkish bank to pacify Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The inquiry is headed by Berman’s office.

Berman also has pursued several investigations and prosecutions against former and current Trump allies, including the president’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen and current attorney and adviser Rudy Giuliani. [4]The office also has examined the funding operations of the Trump inaugural committee.

“This late Friday night dismissal reeks of potential corruption of the legal process,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said. “What is angering President Trump? A previous action by this U.S. attorney or one that is ongoing?”

The administration’s action also marks yet another direct intervention by the attorney general who earlier this year overruled prosecutors to recommend a lighter prison sentence for Trump adviser Roger Stone[5]. More recently, he has become embroiled in an effort to abandon the prosecution of former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn[6].

Barr’s actions have drawn a hail of criticism and sharp rebukes from a court-appointed arbiter in the Flynn case who called the Justice Department action a “gross abuse” of power.

Removing Berman, however, will now likely require more than a declaration from the attorney general. Berman was not nominated for the office by the president. In 2018, he was appointed as the interim U.S. attorney by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Following that temporary term of 120 days, he was appointed to the position by the federal judges in New York’s Southern District.

“I was appointed by the judges of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York,” Berman said in a statement, likely foreshadowing a legal fight to retain control of the pivotal office.

Trump’s nomination of Clayton, the SEC chairman[7] was equally unusual, as the nominee has not worked as a prosecutor. Instead, Barr hailed Clayton’s “management experience and expertise in financial regulation.” Until Clayton’s nomination is considered by the Senate, the attorney general said the president was appointing New Jersey’s chief federal prosecutor, Craig Carpenito, to take Berman’s place beginning July 3. 

A 1979 Justice Department opinion concluded that the president – not the attorney general or a consortium of judges – has the authority to remove a U.S. attorney who holds the position by judicial appointment.

In those cases, the opinion states, “the power of removal may be even more important to the president than the power of appointment.

“Indeed, it is the power to remove, and not the power to appoint, which gives rise to the power to control … Due process problems could arise if a court through the exercise of its removal power were enabled to control the manner in which a prosecutor performs his official duties. We therefore are of the opinion that the power to remove a court-appointed U.S. Attorney rests with the president.”

More: ‘Sold his soul’: Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former fixer, asks judge to reduce prison sentence[8]

Two Ukrainian associates of Rudy Giuliani arrested for making illegal campaign contributions, push for removal of Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch

USA TODAY

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