President Trump fired Geoffrey Berman Saturday after the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York refused a request by Attorney General William Barr to resign Friday night. Barr had offered Berman higher positions within the Justice Department but Berman declined and instead went public claiming he could not be removed from office until replaced by a Senate confirmed presidential nominee due to his appointment to the position by a federal court.
Barr wrote a letter to Berman Saturday informing him of his termination by Trump and refuted Berman’s claims.
I was surprised and quite disappointed by the press statement you released last night. As we discussed, I wanted the opportunity to choose a distinguished New York lawyer, Jay Clayton, to nominate as United States Attorney and was hoping for your cooperation to facilitate a smooth transition. When the Department of Justice advised the public of the President’s intent to nominate your successor, I had understood that we were in ongoing discussions concerning the possibility of your remaining in the Department or Administration in one of the other senior positions we discussed, including Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division and Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. While we advised the public that you would leave the U.S. Attorney’s office in two weeks, I still hoped that your departure could be amicable.
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. By operation of law, the Deputy United States Attorney, Audrey Strauss, will become the Acting United States Attorney, and I anticipate that she will serve in that capacity until a permanent successor is in place. See 28 U.S.C. 541(c).
To the extent that your statement reflects a misunderstanding concerning how you may be displaced, it is well-established that a court-appointed U.S. Attorney is subject to removal by the President. See United States v. Solomon, 216 F. Supp. 835, 843 (S.D.N.Y. 1963) (recognizing that the “President may, at any time, remove the judicially appointed United States Attorney”); see also United States v. Hilario, 218 F.3d 19, 27 (1st Cir. 2000) (same). Indeed, the court’s appointment power has been upheld only because the Executive retains the authority to supervise and remove the officer.
Your statement also wrongly implies that your continued tenure in the office is necessary to ensure that cases now pending in the Southern District of New York are handled appropriately. This is obviously false. I fully expect that the office will continue to handle all cases in the normal course and pursuant to the Department’s applicable standards, policies, and guidance. Going forward, if any actions or decisions are taken that office supervisors conclude are improper interference with a case, that information should be provided immediately to Michael Horowitz, the Department of Justice’s Inspector General, whom I am authorizing to review any such claim. The Inspector General’s monitoring of the situation will provide additional confidence that all cases will continue to be decided on the law and the facts.
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Barr’s statement Friday night released by the DOJ that set off the chain of events:
“I am pleased to announce that President Trump intends to nominate Jay Clayton, currently the Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, to serve as the next United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. For the past three years, Jay has been an extraordinarily successful SEC Chairman, overseeing efforts to modernize regulation of the capital markets, protect Main Street investors, enhance American competitiveness, and address challenges ranging from cybersecurity issues to the COVID-19 pandemic. His management experience and expertise in financial regulation give him 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 historic figures who have held that post. On behalf of the President, I thank Jay for accepting this nomination, and I look forward to working with him soon.
On my recommendation, the President has appointed Craig Carpenito, currently the United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey, to serve as the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, while the Senate is considering Jay Clayton’s nomination. This appointment will be effective July 3, and Craig will work closely with the outgoing United States Attorney to ensure a smooth transition. I thank Craig for his continued service and for taking on this important interim responsibility.
Finally, I thank Geoffrey Berman, who is stepping down after two-and-a-half years of service as United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. With tenacity and savvy, Geoff has done an excellent job leading one of our nation’s most significant U.S. Attorney’s Offices, achieving many successes on consequential civil and criminal matters. I appreciate his service to the Department of Justice and our nation, and I wish him well in the future.”
Berman’s response Friday night posted to the DOJ website, before being fired Saturday:
Statement Of U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman On Announcement By Attorney General Barr
“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, to which I was appointed by the Judges of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. 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. 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.”
Berman went to his office Saturday morning, telling reporters, “I’m just here to do my job.”
!!! SDNY’s Geoff Berman went to work this morning. “I’m just here to do my job,” he told reporters who caught up with him outside SDNY offices this morning.
“I issued a statement last night, I have nothing to add to that this morning. I’m just here to do my job.”
— Shimon Prokupecz (@ShimonPro) June 20, 2020
Legal analysis on why Barr switched out actings USAs:
5. Having the acting role go to Audrey Strauss avoids the Vacancies Reform Act issue that @steve_vladeck and @EricColumbus and I were debating last night; it’s a cleaner, more elegant resolution.#appellatetwitter #FridayNightMassacre
— David Lat (@DavidLat) June 20, 2020
Barr is scheduled to be interviewed by Maria Bartiromo on the Fox News Channel Sunday morning.
— Maria Bartiromo (@MariaBartiromo) June 19, 2020