President Donald Trump reportedly fired a Manhattan U.S. attorney on Saturday after the prominent federal prosecutor refused to step down.
The New York Times reports that according to Attorney General William Barr, the president fired Geoffrey Berman, who has been investigating a number of Trump associates, at Barr’s request.
“Unfortunately, with your statement of last night, you have chosen public spectacle over public service. 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,” Barr letter read, as CNN revealed.
The news is the latest escalation in a clash between the Justice Department and federal prosecutors that has been ongoing, leaving some worried about the independence of federal prosecutors. Yesterday, Barr announced that Berman would be leaving his position after the lawyer refused to step down to take over the civil division of the Justice Department. Two hours later, Berman released his own statement saying that he had no plans to leave.
“I have not resigned, and have no intention of resigning, my position,” he said, noting that he only knew about Barr’s attempts to remove him when he read the press release.
Berman said that he would only step down once his replacement was confirmed by the Senate. He showed up for work the next morning with a briefcase in hand, telling reporters assembled outside that he was just there to do his job.
Barr has said that he wants to replace Berman with Jay Clayton, the current chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, a man who is friendly with the president. The move has been criticized as one aimed at easing the investigations into Trump or his associates.
Berman has been heading efforts to investigate those surrounding the president, which resulted in the arrest and prosecution of Michael Cohen and an ongoing inquiry in Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer.
Shortly after, Trump denied that he had fired Berman, saying that he was “not involved” while speaking with reporters on the White House lawn prior to heading to his controversial Tusla rally.
“That’s all up to the attorney general, Attorney General Barr is working on that, that’s his department, not my department,” he said.
“We have a very capable attorney general so that’s really up to him. I’m not involved.”
Trump on Barr's claim Trump fired Geoff Berman: "That's really up to him. I'm not involved" pic.twitter.com/yB0Fjc61Uv
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) June 20, 2020
Some legal experts say that court-appointed U.S. attorneys like Berman can’t be fired by the Justice Department, and that’s something the president can do.
Wrinkle????(DOJ’s own OLC opinion says that court-appointed US attorneys like Geoff Berman can be fired only by the president, not DOJ) https://t.co/4ldYij4wUk
— Preet Bharara (@PreetBharara) June 20, 2020
Trump has reportedly said that he was in support of removing Berman.