WASHINGTON — U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr was so determined to get the top federal prosecutor leading investigations into President Donald Trump’s allies off the case that he offered multiple cushy jobs for the taking, according to a statement he gave to the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
Geoffrey Berman, the former U.S attorney for the Southern District of New York, was fired June 19, when Barr released a statement falsely claiming the prosecutor was stepping down.
After Berman refused to go along, Barr had to backtrack and admit that Trump wanted Berman fired, though he praised Berman’s work. Barr claimed the removal was to make way so that Trump’s head of the Securities Exchange Commission, Jay Clayton, could take the job.
Berman’s office oversaw the case against Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who admitted lying to Congress and committing campaign finance violations related to Trump’s hush money payments.
The Southern District also is reportedly probing Trump pal and impeachment lawyer Rudy Giuliani, in part because of his association with Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman — the businessmen linked to Russia and Ukraine who are accused of funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to Trump’s campaign and to many other Republicans.
The White House has not offered any complaints about Berman’s performance, but Berman said in his statement that Barr gave him a hard sell to leave, offering him jobs as head of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division or even as a replacement for Clayton at the SEC.
“The Attorney General pressed me to take the Civil Division position, saying that the role would be a good résumé builder,” Berman testified. “He said that I should want to create a book of business once I returned to the private sector, which that role would help achieve. He also stated that I would just have to sit there for five months and see who won the election before deciding what came next for me.”
When Berman declined repeatedly, Barr tried threats.
“The Attorney General said that if I did not resign from my position I would be fired,” Berman said. “He added that getting fired from my job would not be good for my résumé or future job prospects.”
When Berman still didn’t back down, Barr “said that he was trying to think of other jobs in the administration that might be of interest to me. I said that there was no job offer that would entice me to resign from my position.”
That discussion happened at Barr’s suite in the Pierre Hotel in midtown Manhattan, just off Central Park. When it did not go well, Barr told Berman to give him his cell number.
After some phone tag the next day, Barr floated the plum SEC job.
“I told him my position was unchanged and that I wanted to wait until Monday to have our final conversation,” Berman said.
But Barr did not wait, and less than two hours later put out the bogus announcement that Berman was stepping down.
Berman fought back when Barr’s announcement included a plan to bring in an outsider to oversee the Southern District, but relented when Barr decided the next day he would promote one of Berman’s deputies.
Berman came to testify after Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., vowed to get to the bottom of what he called an obvious attempt by Trump to politicize the U.S. attorney’s office.
Shortly after Berman’s interview Thursday, Nadler announced that a transcription of the session would eventually be released, but that the interview confirmed the details in Berman’s statement, and that Barr tried repeatedly to “entice” Berman to quit.
Berman also asserted that Barr’s initial intention put an outsider in Berman’s office was “unprecedented, unnecessary, and unexplained” and certain to “delay and disrupt” pending investigations, according to Nadler’s recap.
“In his effort to push out Mr. Berman, Attorney General Barr lied repeatedly to the public,” Nadler said in the release. “The Attorney General knew full well that Mr. Berman had not resigned from his post when he issued his June 19 press release announcing Mr. Berman’s resignation.”
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