Geoffrey Berman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, attends a press conference at the U.S. Southern District Attorney's Office in New York City on October 10, 2019.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images
In breathtaking statements on Friday night, President Donald Trump said he would appoint Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Jay Clayton to succeed Geoffrey Berman as chief prosecutor in Manhattan – but Berman promptly said he wouldn't leave until a senate successor is confirmed.
The extremely unusual standoff is associated with high stakes, as Berman has shown willingness to investigate Trump employees, including two presidential lawyers.
"I was told in a press release by the Attorney General that I was stepping down as a United States attorney," said Berman in a written statement that was also posted on his office's Twitter account.
"I have not resigned from my position, which I was appointed by the United States District Court judges for the southern district of New York, and I have no intention of resigning," he said. "I will resign if a candidate appointed by the President is confirmed by the Senate."
"Until then, our investigation will continue immediately or without interruption. I appreciate every day that I work with the men and women of this office to pursue justice without fear or favor – and I intend to ensure that the important cases of this office continue unimpeded. "
So far, there has been no indication that Berman would voluntarily or otherwise leave the prestigious post of the U.S. SDNY lawyer.
Many legal observers were stunned late Friday when Attorney General William Barr said Berman had "resigned" and Trump would nominate Clayton to replace him.
Jay Clayton, chairman of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, testified during a hearing by the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee on "Supervision of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission" on Tuesday, December 10, 2019 . (Photo by Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Bill Clark | Getty Images
Berman's rejection of this claim raises the question of whether he can actually hold onto his job and who can get rid of it.
Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Chairman, DN.Y., asked Clayton to withdraw his name from the exam on Saturday, and asked the Inspector General of the Department of Justice and the Office of Professional Responsibility to investigate the reasons for the Trump administration's attempt, Oust Berman.
Berman was appointed acting US attorney for SDNY in early 2018 by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He was later called to office by the judges in the southern district, thereby revoking his temporary "incumbent" status. This unusual move came after Trump did not officially nominate Berman for the job for various possible reasons.
A 41-year statement from the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel states that a president has the power to remove a United States lawyer appointed by the judge to do his job. However, the same opinion says that a Attorney General cannot fire a US attorney appointed by the court.
On Friday, Berman reportedly oversaw a criminal investigation into Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, a former New York mayor, and himself, the former SDNY US attorney.
Giuliani is reportedly being considered for financial transactions with Ukraine. Two Giuliani employees, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were criminally charged by Berman's office last year for violating campaign finance laws. Parnas and Fruman supported Giuliani in pushing Ukrainian officials to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, the alleged Democratic presidential candidate, and Biden's son Hunter Biden.
Berman filed charges against wealthy investor Jeffrey Epstein, a former Trump friend, last July for child trafficking. Epstein killed himself in a federal prison in Manhattan less than two months after his arrest.
And Berman had previously received trials of several financial crimes from Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
Also last year, it was reported that the SDNY was part of a group of federal investigative agencies that investigated whether Deutsche Bank had violated money laundering and other laws.
Deutsche Bank has reportedly borrowed billions of dollars from companies and businesses controlled by the family of his son-in-law Jared Kushner.
On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that a new book by Trump's former national security advisor John Bolton described an interaction in May 2018 when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent a memo claiming that a Turkish company was being taken out of Berman's office Sanction violation investigated Iran was innocent of such behavior. The company is believed to be the state-owned bank Halkbank, which was investigated by Berman's office.
"Trump then said to Erdogan that he would take care of the matter and said that the South District prosecutors were not his people, but Obama, a problem that would be resolved if they were replaced by his people," Bolton wrote in the book. The room where it happened: A memory of the White House, "said the post.
But Berman later received charges against Halkbank, and the case is still pending.
Jerry Nadler, chairman of the House Justice Committee, D-N.Y. Said in a tweet: "America is right to expect the worst of Bill Barr, who has repeatedly intervened in Trump's name on criminal investigations."
"We have a hearing on the subject on Wednesday. We welcome Mr. Berman's testimony and will invite him to the testimony," wrote Nadler.
Barr has tried the prosecution in recent months to recommend less severe punishment to Roger Stone, a Republican agent who is friends with Trump, and is seeking to dismiss the criminal case against former national security adviser Michael Flynn, whose prosecution has criticized the president. Flynn pleaded guilty twice to lying to the FBI for talking to a Russian diplomat.
Clayton had not previously worked as a prosecutor and is said to be the first non-prosecutor to head the SDNY if it is confirmed. Previously, he was a partner at Sullivan & Cromwell law firm.
Trump has appointed current U.S. attorney for New Jersey, Craig Carpenito, as the United States' attorney for the southern district of New York, while the Senate is considering Clayton's appointment.
Preet Bharara, whom Berman replaced after being fired by Trump, asked in a tweet: "Why is a president getting rid of his own hand-picked US lawyer in SDNY on Friday night, less than 5 months before the election?"
Bharara wrote in another tweet before Berman made his statement: "Let me be stronger here. Berman & # 39; resign & # 39; is bull —-. He was fired."
When Berman said he would refuse to leave his job, Bharara said "good for him" during a CNN appearance.
A senior official told NBC News that Barr had decided to replace Berman because Clayton was planning to leave his SEC position and return to New York, and said he was interested in the SDNY job.
The official said Berman had been offered and declined another position in the Department of Justice
"It's not a reflection on Berman, but Barr valued Clayton and thought he would be a good fit," said the official.
The southern district of New York is considered one of the best, if not the best, federal law firms in the United States for dealing with major criminal cases involving terrorism, financial institutions, organized crime, and high-level accused.
The office tracks federal crimes committed in Manhattan, the Bronx, Westchester County, and five other counties north of New York City.
In a statement on Friday, Barr said of Clayton: "For the past three years, Jay has been an extraordinarily successful SEC chairman who has made efforts to modernize capital market regulation, protect Main Street investors, improve American competitiveness, and Addressing challenges in the area of monitoring cybersecurity issues in the COVID-19 pandemic. "
"His management experience and financial regulation expertise provide him with an ideal background to lead the United States Attorney's Office for the southern district of New York, and he will be a worthy successor to the many historical figures who held the office."
"On behalf of the President, I thank Jay for accepting this nomination and look forward to working with him soon."
Barr also said of Berman: "Geoff has done an excellent job running one of the most important US law firms in our country, and has had many successes in civil and criminal law matters. I appreciate his service to the Department of Justice and our country and I wish him well the future. "