By Alan Feuer, Katie Benner, Ben Protess, William K. Rashbaum and Nicole Hong
President Donald Trump on Saturday personally fired the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, Geoffrey S. Berman, whose office has pursued one case after another that has rankled the president and his allies, putting his former personal lawyer in prison and investigating his current one.
It was the culmination of an extraordinary clash after years of tension between the White House and New York federal prosecutors.
In a letter released by the Justice Department, Attorney General William Barr accused of Berman of choosing “public spectacle over public service” because he would not voluntarily step down.
“Because you have declared that you have no intention of resigning, I have asked the president to remove you as of today, and he has done so,” the letter read. Barr said Berman’s top deputy, Audrey Strauss, would become acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
The dismissal of Berman came after his office brought a series of highly sensitive cases that worried and angered Trump and others in his inner circle.
First, there was the arrest and prosecution in 2018 of Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime legal fixer. Then, there was the indictment last year of a state-owned bank in Turkey with political connections that had drawn the president’s attention. More recently, the Manhattan prosecutors launched an inquiry into Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer.
These simmering tensions finally erupted Friday night in the most public fashion possible as Barr suddenly announced that Berman was stepping down — only to discover two hours later that Berman had made his own announcement: that he was going nowhere.
Given the number of sore spots between Trump’s Justice Department and its most prominent outpost, it remained unclear precisely what prompted Barr to seek Berman’s removal well after nightfall at the start of a summer weekend. At least two of the politically sensitive cases — involving the Turkish bank and Giuliani — remain ongoing.
Speaking briefly to reporters outside the White House before heading to a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Trump appeared to try to distance himself from the firing. Trump insisted that he was “not involved,” despite Barr’s letter.