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Geoffrey Berman, U.S. Attorney Who Prosecuted Trump Allies, Says He Won't Quit

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman speaks to reporters last year about two Florida men associated with President Trump's lawyer Rudolph Giuliani and the Ukraine investigation.
Seth Wenig AP
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman speaks to reporters last year about two Florida men associated with President Trump's lawyer Rudolph Giuliani and the Ukraine investigation.

Updated at 10:59 a.m. ET

The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York is in a fight with the Justice Department over his job.

Geoffrey Berman has overseen prosecutions of associates of President Trump, including Trump's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen. He also brought the grand jury indictment against associates of the president's current personal attorney, Rudolph Giuliani.

Attorney General William Barr, in a statement released late Friday night, said that Berman is "stepping down" and the president is nominating Jay Clayton, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, to succeed Berman.

A short time later, Berman fired off his own announcement, denying Barr's statement.

"I learned in a press release from the Attorney General tonight that I was 'stepping down' as United States Attorney," Berman said. "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."

While Berman is pushing back against leaving his post, Barr's statement indicated that President Trump has already appointed an interim replacement for Berman. The attorney general said that effective July 3rd, Craig Carpenito, the current U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, would take over until Clayton is confirmed.

Barr thanked Berman for his service, adding, "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."

Under Berman's watch, his office aggressively investigated and prosecuted Trump's former personal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen. Cohen ultimately pleaded guilty to financial crimes, lying to Congress and campaign finance crimes.

Under oath, Cohen implicated Trump in payments made to two women ahead of the 2016 elections to keep them quiet about affairs they said they had with Trump.

Berman issued a grand jury indictment againstLev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two Giuliani associates. The two have pleaded "not guilty" to setting up a shell company to hide the foreign sourcing of a $325,000 donation to a superPAC committed to President Trump's reelection. The two also allegedly helped Giuliani in efforts to dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter in Ukraine.

And Berman's office has investigated the business dealings of Giuliani himself, but no charges have been brought against him.

"This is clearly a political takeover of the historically independent Southern District of New York," said Elie Honig, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the district, in an interview with NPR's Weekend Edition.

"When you look at the timing of this — the fact that it was announced late on a Friday night, the fact that the attorney general immediately was caught in a misleading statement when he said the U.S. attorney is stepping down ... and you look at all the important pending cases in the SDNY right now, the only logical conclusion to me is that this is a political move."

Honig said that if the Trump administration wishes to push the matter further — over Berman's stated objection and without Senate confirmation of his replacement — it's likely to end up in the courts.

"The question is, can the president just fire or move aside the U.S. attorney barring [Senate approval]?" he said. "In other words, can the attorney general and the president just say 'You're out, somebody else?' "

During Berman's tenure, the SDNY has also taken on other high-profile cases, including the prosecution of multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein on federal sex trafficking charges. Berman later charged two corrections officers who were supposed to guard Epstein with dereliction of their duties after Epstein's apparent suicide in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center.

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