Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, plans to step down and President Donald Trump will nominate the current chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission to succeed him, Attorney General William Barr announced Friday evening.
But Berman said he learned of the plan in a Justice Department press release and shot back that he has no intention of stepping down.
“I have not resigned, and have no intention of resigning, my position, to which I was appointed by the Judges of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.
“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. I cherish every day that I work with the men and women of this Office to pursue justice without fear or favor — and intend to ensure that this Office’s important cases continue unimpeded,” he said in a statement late Friday night.
Word of Barr’s announcement caught senior officials in his office off guard. His office prosecuted former Trump confidante Michael Cohen, though he was recused from involvement in the case. And he was overseeing the investigation of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s business activities.
Barr said the president will nominate Jay Clayton to succeed Berman.
“For the past three years, Jay has been an extraordinarily successful SEC Chairman, overseeing efforts to modernize regulation of the capital markets, protect Main Street investors, enhance American competitiveness, and address challenges ranging from cybersecurity issues to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
He said Berman “has done an excellent job leading one of our nation’s most significant U.S. attorney’s offices, achieving many successes on consequential civil and criminal matters.”
Berman has also overseen the prosecution of two Florida businessmen, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, former associates of Giuliani who were tied to the Ukraine impeachment investigation. Berman’s office filed charges last fall, accusing them of violating federal campaign finance laws.
A senior administration official said Barr made the decision because Clayton planned to leave the SEC position and return to New York and expressed interest in the US attorney’s position. The official said Berman was offered another position in the Justice Department but declined.
“It’s no reflection on Berman, but Barr regarded Clayton highly and thought he would be a good fit,” the official said. The official pointed out that the US attorney’s position is a political appointment.
Preet Bharara, who preceded Berman in the office was fired in the early days of the Trump administration tweeted, “Doesn’t sound like `stepping down. Why does a president get rid of his own hand-picked US Attorney in SDNY on a Friday night, less than 5 months before the election?”
New York’s senior U.S. senator, Democrat Charles Schumer, said the move “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?”