U.S. prosecutor investigating Trump lawyer refuses to resign

A top U.S. federal prosecutor whose office has been investigating President Donald Trump's personal lawyer on Friday refused to step down after the administration abruptly said it was replacing him.

The U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, Geoffrey Berman, who leads a powerful office known for prosecuting high-profile terrorism cases, Wall Street financial crimes and government corruption, said he first learned of the move from a DOJ press release.

In a statement Berman writes, "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."

The dramatic standoff marks the latest in a series of unusual actions by Attorney General William Barr that critics say are meant to benefit Trump politically and undermine the independence of the Justice Department.

It also comes as Trump seeks to purge officials perceived as not fully supporting him. In recent weeks he has fired a series of agency watchdogs, including one who played a key role in Trump's impeachment earlier this year.

In the surprise late-night announcement, Barr said Berman was stepping down and that he would nominate Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton to take Berman's spot.

Since being appointed in January 2018, Berman has not shied from taking on figures in Trump's orbit. His office oversaw the prosecution of Michael Cohen, Trump's former personal lawyer, indicted two associates of Rudy Giuliani and launched a probe into Giuliani in connection with his efforts to dig up dirt on Trump's political adversaries in Ukraine.

Senator Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted, "This late Friday night dismissal reeks of potential corruption of the legal process....What is angering President Trump? A previous action by this U.S. Attorney or one that is ongoing?"

Barr's announcement comes less than a week before the House Judiciary Committee is set to hold a hearing where Justice Department officials will testify about political interference at the department.

Chairman Jerrold Nadler said he intends to invite Berman to testify.