Barr says U.S. attorney in Manhattan fired after he refused to step down for new nominee

Geoffrey Berman handled some of the most politically sensitive probes in country.

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Attorney General William Barr on May 28, 2020
Attorney General William Barr on May 28, 2020
(Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)
Last Updated:
June 20, 2020 - 6:55pm

Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, was fired Saturday after the high-profile prosecutor initially refused to step aside for a new nominee, Attorney General William Barr announced.

Barr sharply criticized Berman for his conduct Friday after a new nominee was named, saying the prosecutor had “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,” the attorney general said.

You can read the termination letter here.

Justice officials said Berman’s top deputy, Audrey Strauss, would become the acting U.S. attorney in Manhattan.

A few hours after his firing was announced, Berman issued a statement saying he had agreed to leave his office immediately and was happy his deputy had been appointed his temporary successor.

"It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve as this District’s U.S. Attorney and a custodian of its proud legacy, but I could leave the District in no better hands than Audrey’s,” he said.

While Berman finally relented, the political damage from his spectacle was already apparent. Democratic House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler announced Saturday evening he will investigate the termination.

"The whole thing smacks of corruption and incompetence, which is what we have come to expect from this President and his Attorney General," Nadler said. 

While Barr invoked Trump's name, the president said he wasn't directly involved in the dispute. "That's his department, not my department," Trump told reporters. "I'm not involved."

Berman defiantly refused to step down Friday night after Barr announced that Trump planned to nom­i­nate Se­cu­ri­ties and Ex­change Com­mis­sion chairman Jay Clay­ton to suc­ceed him.

"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,” Berman said. “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."

Berman’s office handles some of the most sensitive political and security cases in the country, including the recent investigation into former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump’s personal lawyers. 

There was no explanation for why Barr abruptly announced Berman was departing after 2 1/2 years in the top prosecutorial job in Manhattan.

”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,” Barr said Friday before the drama began. “I ap­pre­ci­ate his ser­vice to the De­part­ment of Jus­tice and our na­tion, and I wish him well in the fu­ture.”

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