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Manhattan US attorney refuses to resign despite DOJ ouster

The Hill logo The Hill 6/20/2020 Tal Axelrod
a man wearing a suit and tie: Manhattan US attorney refuses to resign despite DOJ ouster © Getty Manhattan US attorney refuses to resign despite DOJ ouster

The Justice Department abruptly announced late Friday night that it would replace the U.S. attorney in Manhattan who oversaw probes into several allies of President Trump, though the federal prosecutor said he had no plans to resign.

The Justice Department said in a press release that it is replacing Geoffrey Berman, the powerful prosecutor for the Southern District of New York whose office ran the probe that sent Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen to prison and is investigating the president's current personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.

"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," said Attorney General William Barr.

However, Berman pushed back and said he will not "step down" until a "presidentially appointed nominee is confirmed by the Senate," according to a statement from his office. He also said he found out he was being replaced when he read the Justice Department's press release.

"I learned in a press release from the Attorney General tonight that I was 'stepping down' as United States Attorney," the statement reads. "I have not resigned, and have no intention of resigning, my position. ... 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."

Barr, who did not provide a reason as to why Berman was being replaced, said that Jay Clayton, the current chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, would be nominated for the position. Craig Carpenito, currently the U.S. attorney in New Jersey, will fill Berman's role in an acting capacity effective July 3.

The replacement is likely to spark further claims from Democrats in Washington that the president is seeking to politicize the Justice Department and remove figures who are critical of him or investigating people in his orbit.

Berman's office has prosecuted several Trump associates, including Cohen, who pleaded guilty to tax, bank and campaign finance crimes. Berman recused himself from directly overseeing Cohen's case for reasons that were never made clear.

Federal prosecutors in Berman's office are also reportedly investigating if Giuliani, who is known to have a number of associates abroad, failed to register with the government as a foreign agent.

Beyond Cohen and Giuliani, Berman's office also subpoenaed Trump's inaugural committee over an investigation into potential illegal contributions from foreigners and charged former Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), a Trump ally, with insider trading.

Berman was appointed to his role in January 2018 to replace former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who was ousted for defying Trump's request for him to purge the office of Obama appointees.

The Southern District of New York is among the most prominent districts in the country, garnering national headlines for its cases against mob bosses and terrorists in recent years.

Updated: June 20 at 6:28 a.m.

Lisa Conley contributed.

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