But Barr, later that night, issued a statement announcing Berman’s resignation anyway, which triggered Berman to publicly respond that he had done no such thing. The extraordinary exchange culminated the following day, when Barr agreed to name Berman’s deputy as his successor and President Donald Trump ordered Berman’s firing.
Berman told lawmakers he had consulted with private attorneys and was prepared to contest his removal until Barr had agreed to elevate Berman’s deputy, Audrey Strauss, rather than insert an attorney from outside the office to replace him.
The events have raised alarms on Capitol Hill that Trump was seeking to assert control over the office of a prosecutor handling cases connected to Trump himself and his close associates. Berman’s testimony to the House Judiciary Committee could reveal more details about the work he’s been pursuing, though he emphasized that he is constrained in what he can say due to the office’s ongoing work.
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, suggested Berman’s description of Barr’s conduct could amount to criminal activity.
“What we don’t know yet is if the attorney general’s conduct is criminal. But that kind of quid pro quo is awfully close to bribery,” Nadler said after exiting the interview with Berman.
Nadler said Berman would not discuss specific cases his office was leading but said his removal would inevitably lead to “delay and disruption” in the office’s work.
Berman described in great detail his interactions with Barr, noting that they met at 12:10 p.m. on June 18 in the Pierre Hotel in New York City. “There were sandwiches on the table, but nobody ate,” Berman recalled.
“The Attorney General began the meeting by saying that he wanted to make a change in the Southern District of New York,” Berman continued, adding, “I asked the Attorney General why I was being asked to resign prior to a nominee being confirmed. He said it was because the Administration wanted to get [SEC Chairman] Jay Clayton into that position.”
Clayton, who hasn’t served as a prosecutor, sidestepped lawmakers’ questions last week about why he sought to lead the Manhattan-based federal prosecutor’s office during a subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee hearing. And Berman said Barr never explained why he wanted Berman to resign before a permanent, Senate-confirmed successor was ready to lead the office.
Berman was initially tapped by Trump to lead the Southern District of New York prosecutor’s office in January 2018, but as the temporary appointment neared its expiration, the federal district court employed a seldom-used law to permanently appoint Berman to the post until a successor was confirmed by the Senate.
Barr is slated to testify to the Judiciary Committee on July 28, the culmination of a 14-month effort to bring the attorney general before the Democrat-controlled panel. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Berman’s testimony.
Berman said he consistently pushed back on Barr’s suggestion that he accept another position in government.
“The Attorney General pressed me to take the Civil Division position, saying that the role would be a good resume builder. 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,” Berman said. “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.”
“I told the Attorney General that there were important investigations in the Office that I wanted to see through to completion,” he continued. “I also said that I wanted to help lead the Office through the COVID crisis and get the Office back to normal functioning.”