Attorney General Bill Barr announced last week that U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman would be stepping down, and announced his tentative replacement.
Soon after the Justice Department released the statement, Berman tossed a wrench into things.
In response, Berman released a statement saying he had no intention of voluntarily resigning from his post.
That left Barr with no choice: he asked President Donald Trump to fire Berman — and that’s exactly what happened.
In the statement on Friday, Barr described Berman as someone with “tenacity and savvy” who had “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.”
By the next day, however, it seems things had changed.
Berman took to Twitter on Saturday and said he “learned in a press release” that he had supposedly decided to step down.
“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,” he wrote. “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.”
— US Attorney SDNY (@SDNYnews) June 20, 2020
BIn response, Barr released a letter later on Saturday making it clear that he wanted the U.S. attorney removed.
“I was surprised and disappointed by the press statement you released last night,” Barr wrote, referring to Berman’s tweet. “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.”
Barr went on to accuse Berman of choosing “public spectacle over public service” by releasing his response to the earlier press release.
“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 wrote.
A source told the Washington Examiner that Clayton had brought up the idea himself about taking over as the head prosecutor for SDNY.
“He expressed interest in SDNY,” the unnamed official reportedly said. “The Attorney General thought it was a good idea. He offered Berman other positions, including head of the Civil Division at Main Justice. Berman declined. That’s that.”
This seems like another instance where the Trump administration had a conversation with an official behind closed doors, the individual did not like what was said, and then ran to the media to speak negatively about the president.
The president has every legal right to nominate, hire, and fire any official they choose.