President Trump released a leading federal attorney on Saturday who oversaw a sensitive investigation into the President's allies and is targeting another government official who has uncovered misdeeds or malpractices in Trump's administration or his agents and staff.
The release of Geoffrey Berman, the United States' attorney for the Southern District of New York, culminated in an exceptional day of brinkmanship and raised concerns about the future of executive and attorney control. General William Barr's independence from the White House.
Trump has distributed five inspectors-general since April, including several watchdogs that raised concerns about Trump's pressure on Ukraine last fall and an official who reported a serious lack of protective equipment in U.S. hospitals to fight the coronavirus reported.
Barr, one of Trump's most staunch allies, announced Berman's dismissal in a stabbing letter to the prosecutor on Saturday afternoon after Berman publicly refused to resign.
Barr and New York City’s chief prosecutor had argued in duel statements on Friday. Barr announced the prosecutor's resignation and Berman promised to stay in his job to ensure that "important cases continue unchecked."
Berman's office has investigated Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York Mayor and Trump's personal lawyer, whose actions on behalf of the President were central to the impeachment investigation, said a person familiar with the matter.
Trump spoke to reporters before going to an Oklahoma rally and appeared to distance himself from Berman's shot. "It's up to the Attorney General. Atty. General Barr is working on it," Trump said. "This is his department, not my department, but we have a very capable Attorney General, so it's really up to him. I am not involved. "
Berman's initial refusal to resign raised the prospect of a lawsuit over his position. However, the crisis waned on Saturday night when Berman announced that he would step down immediately, and quoted Barr's decision to appoint Audrey Strauss, the deputy chief, as acting US attorney. On Friday, Barr announced that another U.S. lawyer would take the job, an unorthodox move that has been criticized by legal experts and former prosecutors.
"It has been the honor of your life to act as the US attorney for this district and administrator of its proud heritage," said Berman.
The president has long been upset about the work of the prosecutors under Berman's command. They targeted Trump's former personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen and Giuliani.
Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison last year after admitting various crimes, including buying the silence of adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, both of whom said they had had affairs with Trump.
Prosecutors are investigating Giuliani's business and whether he acted as an unregistered agent of a foreign power, the Associated Press reported.
Giuliani played a leading role in attempting to spot Ukraine's former Vice President Joe Biden, who is now the alleged Democratic presidential candidate. Trump's efforts to pressure the Ukrainian president to investigate Biden and his son resulted in the president's impeachment in December.
Two of Giuliani's employees who participated in the operation in Ukraine were charged by the Manhattan Attorney General with violating laws prohibiting foreign campaign donations. Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman will be on trial in February.
Trump's former national security advisor John Bolton said in an interview and a new book that Trump was trying to hinder the judiciary when he attempted to intervene in an investigation into a Turkish district in the southern district.
Berman, a long-time Republican, was tapped in January 2018 by what was then Atty for the role of prosecutor. Gene. Jeff Sessions. He was later appointed by federal judges to fill the post permanently when the Trump administration did not nominate a successor.
It is not clear what triggered Barr's decision to remove Berman.
The attorney general made a statement Friday night that Berman was "stepping down" and announced that Jay Clayton, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, would be nominated for the position.
The only problem: Berman said he had no idea he was going to resign.
Earlier that day, he had met with Barr, and the couple discussed their next steps, someone familiar with the matter. Barr suggested that if he agreed to resign, Berman could become the deputy attorney general of the civilian department, but the prosecutor declined the offer.
Shortly after Barr announced his resignation, Berman returned and made a public statement that he "learned in a press release from the Attorney General tonight that I would" resign "as a United States attorney. I have not resigned and have not intending to resign. "
Referring to his appointment as federal judge, he said he would step down as soon as the Senate confirmed his successor.
On Saturday morning, according to reports from the intelligence agency, he came to work and told reporters: "I am only here to do my job."
Barr sent a letter to Berman that afternoon saying that he had "asked the President to remove you as of today and he did."
Democrats rushed to Berman's dismissal and said this was just the latest example from the attorney general who wanted to protect the president.
"I said this from day one: Bill Barr was hired to protect the President personally," said Senator Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) In a tweet. “His actions last night made it clear that he was unable to head the Justice Department. He should resign. "
MP Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Chairman of the House Justice Committee, welcomed Berman's testimony at a scheduled hearing Wednesday to see if Barr allowed politics to interfere in law enforcement.
Democrats and former prosecutors say Barr crossed the border several times. He plunged into Roger Stone's sentence and ordered prosecutors to reduce the recommended sentence for the longtime Republican agent and self-admitted dirty fraudster.
The Department of Justice is also trying to drop the case against Michael Flynn, the former national security advisor who pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents in late 2017 for speaking with a Russian envoy during the change of president. Barr told CBS News that he didn't think Flynn had committed a crime.
Not long after Barr was sworn in as Attorney General in early 2019, he took the unusual step of defending the president's behavior when he published the results of Special Advisor Robert S. Mueller III in his two-year investigation into Russia's interference in 2016.