Removed US prosecutor says Trump official pressed him to resign

US attorney in New York had been investigating lawyer Rudy Giuliani and associates in an alleged campaign scheme.

    Former US Attorney for Manhattan Geoffrey Berman told the House Judiciary Committee that Attorney General William Barr lied about his resignation. Berman appeared before the committee behind closed door Thursday, July 9, 2020, in Washington, DC [Andrew Harnik/AP Photo]
    Former US Attorney for Manhattan Geoffrey Berman told the House Judiciary Committee that Attorney General William Barr lied about his resignation. Berman appeared before the committee behind closed door Thursday, July 9, 2020, in Washington, DC [Andrew Harnik/AP Photo]

    A top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, who was removed last month as his office led a probe into President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudolph Giuliani told legislators on Thursday that United States Attorney General William Barr had pressured him to resign.

    In written comments submitted as part of a congressional inquiry, former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman said he was warned by Barr that if he did not leave he would be fired, which "would not be good for my resume or future job prospects".

    "I told him that while I did not want to get fired, I would not resign," Berman said in his statement to the House Judiciary Committee, delivered behind closed doors on Thursday.

    Berman said Barr repeatedly urged him to take another job, either in the Justice Department running its civil division or possibly as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Berman said Barr told him that he wanted to appoint current SEC Chairman Jay Clayton to replace him as the Manhattan-based US attorney.

    Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler has called Berman's dismissal "part of a clear and dangerous pattern" of behaviour by Barr. The panel's Democratic majority is pursuing its investigation of the attorney general, who they said operates more like Trump's personal lawyer than the nation's top law enforcement official. 

    Jerrold Nadler
    Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are investigating whether Attorney General William Barr has abused the power of his office to protect allies of President Donald Trump from Justice Department investigations. Chairman Jerrold Nadler, centre, accompanied by Madeleine Dean, left, and David Cicilline, right, met on Thursday behind closed doors with former federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman on Capitol Hill on Thursday. [Andrew Harnik/AP Photo]

    The Southern District, known for its high-profile prosecutions, is where Berman oversaw several continuing investigations of Trump associates, including some who figured prominently in the House impeachment inquiry of the president.

    Berman said he told Barr he regarded Clayton as an "unqualified choice" for the prosecutor job because he had never served as a federal prosecutor and "had no criminal experience."

    Berman said he initially issued a news release saying he had "no intention of resigning and that I intended to ensure that our office's important cases continue unimpeded".

    However, he ultimately agreed to leave, after Barr backed off an earlier plan to install New Jersey's top federal prosecutor Craig Carpenito in his place as acting US attorney.

    Instead, Barr tapped Berman's hand-picked number 2, Deputy US Attorney Audrey Strauss, who is currently leading the office until a permanent replacement can be confirmed by the US Senate.

    Berman said installing Carpenito would be "unprecedented, unnecessary and unexplained" and would "delay and disrupt" pending investigations.

    Top New York prosecutor leaves job after standoff with Barr (3:17)

    Democrats on Judiciary released a statement itemising "key takeaways" from Berman's testimony.

    "In his effort to push out Mr Berman, Attorney General Barr lied repeatedly to the public. 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," the statement said.

    A full transcript of Berman's testimony is expected to be released by the committee at a later date.

    Berman brought charges in October against two Giuliani associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, for allegedly scheming to funnel Russian money to Trump's campaign and to other Republicans.

    Giuliani and Parnas were players in Trump's campaign to pressure Ukraine to open a corruption investigation of Democratic rival Joe Biden, which was at the centre of the president's impeachment by the House in 2019.

    Giuliani and Parnas
    President Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani has coffee with Ukrainian American businessman Lev Parnas at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC in 2019 [File: Aram Roston/Reuters]

    Democrats have accused Barr of improperly meddling in a number of criminal and antitrust investigations to protect Trump and his allies. Barr has defended his actions and is scheduled to appear before the panel on July 28.

    Last month, career prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky told legislators on the panel that the US Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia faced political pressure to scale back its sentencing recommendation for Trump's longtime friend Roger Stone.

    Court papers filed in Stone's case indicate that the Justice Department said Stone should report to a federal prison in Jesup, Georgia, next Tuesday. That could pave the way for a possible presidential pardon or sentence commutation after Stone was found guilty of obstruction as part of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies