Top US prosecutor who probed president’s allies fired
America’s top law enforcement official told a federal prosecutor known for probing allies of President Donald Trump that he was fired on Saturday, sparking an uproar and triggering an inquiry by Democratic legislators.
Geoffrey Berman, head of the Southern District of New York attorney’s office since 2018, discovered his job was in jeopardy via a media release late on Friday from attorney-general Bill Barr saying the prosecutor was stepping down.
Berman responded that he had “no intention” of quitting, and that his office’s “investigations will move forward without interruption”.
But Barr sent him a letter on Saturday saying Trump had agreed to fire the official “as of today”.
The fast-intensifying crisis has pitted the government against much of Washington’s legal community — and has apparently set Barr against Trump, who denied any involvement in the case.
In his letter, circulated widely by US media, Barr accused Berman of having “chosen public spectacle over public service” through his defiance.
Berman — who later confirmed in a statement he would be leaving “immediately” — finds himself at the centre of the latest controversy in what Democrats have characterised as the politicisation of the justice department under Barr.
The veteran prosecutor had overseen the prosecution of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and probed advisor Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to discredit the president’s political opponents.
But Trump, speaking ahead of a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, denied sacking Berman — further adding to the confused messaging coming from the administration.
“That’s all up to the attorney-general ... He’s working on that, that’s his department,” Trump said.
“I’m not involved.”
Berman is a Republican who held a position in Trump’s transition team and was once a law partner of Giuliani.
He has also investigated two associates of Giuliani accused of campaign finance violations and helping dig up dirt on Trump’s election challenger Joe Biden as part of the Ukraine scandal over which Trump was impeached.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer urged the justice department inspector-general to launch an investigation into “blatantly corrupt DoJ interference”.
Meanwhile Jerry Nadler, the Democratic chair of the House Judiciary Committee, accused Barr of repeatedly interfering in “criminal investigations on Trump’s behalf”.
The committee said it would “immediately open an investigation into this incident, as part of our broader investigation into Barr’s unacceptable politicisation of the department of justice.”
Two whistleblowers were scheduled to testify on Wednesday on “why Barr’s attempt to fire Berman is part of a larger, ongoing, and wholly unacceptable pattern of conduct”. — AFP