21 Jun 2020

Manhattan prosecutor steps down, ending stand-off with US Attorney General

12:31 pm on 21 June 2020

A stand-off between US Attorney General William Barr and Manhattan's top federal prosecutor Geoffrey Berman ended on Saturday, after Berman agreed to step down from his post as US Attorney for the Southern District of New York following news that President Donald Trump had fired him.

US Attorney General William Barr looks on during a roundtable with US President Donald Trump,faith leaders and small business owners at Gateway Church Dallas Campus in Dallas, Texas, on June 11, 2020.

US Attorney General William Barr. Photo: AFP

Berman's departure comes amid an investigation by his office into Trump's personal attorney, Rudolph Giuliani. It came after Barr said Berman's hand-picked No. 2, Deputy US Attorney Audrey Strauss, would become Acting US Attorney until a permanent replacement is installed.

Under Strauss' leadership, Berman said the office could continue its "tradition of integrity and independence."

The standoff with Berman follows the latest in a series of unusual moves by Barr that critics say are meant to benefit Trump politically and undermine the independence of the Justice Department.

It also comes as Trump has sought to purge officials perceived as not fully supporting him. In recent weeks he has fired a series of agency watchdogs, including one who played a key role in Trump's impeachment earlier this year.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on October 10, 2019 US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman speaks during a press conference in New York City.

Geoffrey Berman. Photo: AFP

The row with Berman began late Friday, when Barr unexpectedly announced that Berman was stepping down and would be replaced by US Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton.

Berman, however, issued a statement of his own, saying he had no intention of stepping down until the Senate confirms his successor, and that his office's investigations would continue.

On Friday, Barr said he had picked Craig Carpenito, the US Attorney for the District of New Jersey, to serve as Acting US Attorney until Clayton's confirmation.

But on Saturday Barr back-tracked from that plan, saying in a letter to Berman that Trump had fired him at Barr's request, and that Strauss would take over in an acting capacity.

- Reuters