The U.S. attorney who oversaw key prosecutions of allies of President Donald Trump, and an investigation into Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, says he has no intention of resigning, less than two hours after Attorney General William Barr claimed otherwise.
“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,” Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement shortly before 11:20 p.m. Friday.
“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 continued. “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.”
It’s not clear what Berman’s job status is now. The situation echo that of Preet Bharara, Berman’s predecessor, in 2017 refusing to resign along with dozens of other federal prosecutors appointed by President Barack Obama. Bharara was fired for refusing to step down.
Before Berman’s statement, 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, will serve as the acting U.S. attorney in Manhattan, beginning on July 3, Barr said. It’s unclear if that will happen now.
It was unclear why Barr said Berman was resigning 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.
The confrontation is 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.
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.
Berman was appointed by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in January 2018 after Bharara’s firing.
Three months later, FBI agents raided Cohen's offices, an act the president decried as a politically motivated witch hunt.
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 September 11 attacks had been tried in a court of law, it would have been there.