Justice Department bids to oust US prosecutor investigating Trump allies

Justice Department bids to oust US prosecutor investigating Trump allies
Manhattan Federal Prosecutor

The Justice Department has moved to oust a US official in Manhattan overseeing key prosecutions of President Donald Trump’s allies and an investigation of his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

But Geoffrey Berman said he was refusing to leave his post and his ongoing investigations would continue.

“I have not resigned, and have no intention of resigning, my position,” Mr Berman said. His statement came hours after Attorney General William Barr said Mr Berman was stepping down from his position.

The stand-off set off an extraordinary clash between the Justice Department and one of the nation’s top districts, which has tried major mob and terror cases over the years.

Attorney General William Barr has been accused of politicising the Justice Department (Evan Vucci/AP)

It is also likely to deepen tensions between the Justice Department and congressional Democrats who have accused Mr Barr of politicising the agency and acting more like Mr Trump’s personal lawyer than the nation’s chief law enforcement officer.

The move to oust Mr Berman also comes days after allegations surfaced from former Trump national security adviser John Bolton that the President sought to interfere in a Southern District of New York investigation into the state-owned Turkish bank in an effort to cut deals with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Mr Barr offered no explanation for why he was pushing out Mr Berman in the statement he issued late on Friday.

The White House quickly announced that Mr Trump was nominating the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission to the job, a lawyer with virtually no experience as a federal prosecutor.

Hours later, Mr Berman issued his own statement saying he had learned that he was being pushed out through a press release.

He vowed to stay on the job until a Trump nominee is confirmed by the Senate, challenging Mr Barr’s power to remove him from office because he was appointed to the job by federal judges, not by the president.

Geoffrey Berman has been investigating Trump allies (Mary Altaffer/AP)

Under federal law, a US attorney who is appointed by district court judges can serve “until the vacancy is filled”.

A senior Justice Department official said the department was pressing forward with its plans and will have Craig Carpenito, the US attorney in New Jersey, take over the office temporarily, starting on July 3.

Democrats have repeatedly accused Mr Trump’s Justice Department of political interference, and those concerns have also been pervasive among some rank and file officials in the agency. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said his committee was inviting Mr Berman to testify next week.

Federal prosecutors in New York have overseen numerous prosecutions and investigations with ties to Mr Trump in recent years.

That includes an ongoing investigation into Mr Giuliani’s business dealings, including whether he failed to register as a foreign agent, according to people familiar with the probe.

The office has also prosecuted a number of Trump associates, including Mr Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, who served a prison sentence for lying to Congress and campaign finance crimes.

Mr Berman has also overseen the prosecution of two Florida businessmen, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were associates of Mr Giuliani and tied to the Ukraine impeachment investigation. The men were charged in October with federal campaign finance violations, including hiding the origin of a 325,000 dollar donation to a group supporting Mr Trump’s re-election.

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