A number of former Justice Department officials have already called on Barr to give up a series of interventions that appear to be specifically designed to profit Trump politically. Meanwhile, Berman’s refusal to leave peacefully triggered a new crisis and a government showdown for an already desperate administration struggling with a pandemic, a consequent economic crisis and a national race count.
The president has been considering removing Berman for two years and believes Giuliani’s investigation is an attempt to damage him politically, two sources told CNN’s Kevin Liptak. But dramatic events on Friday night pushed back a fresh plot about why Barr and Trump were suddenly so willing to overthrow Berman – the Trump donor appointed by the Trump administration in 2018 – less than five months before the election.
Berman, before entering his office in downtown New York on Saturday morning, told reporters: “I issued a statement last night, I have nothing to add this morning. I’m just here to do my job.”
Basically, the episode reveals the extent to which a president with authoritarian impulses, who has constantly worked to challenge the independence of the judiciary and sought to force him to act in his own self-interest, is willing to act with impunity at the time of his Senate acquittal by Republicans on abuse charges authorities and obstructions of Congress.
The president, meanwhile, has ousted top FBI and Justice Department executives in a way that suggests political motivation. More recently, he has threatened to send regular troops to the streets to oppose anti-racism demonstrations. And he conducted a purge against inspectors general who are independent guard officers in government departments.
‘Friday Night Massacre’?
The extraordinary events over Berman’s fate were the last disturbing echo of the former Richard Nixon massacre on Saturday night when the then president ordered his attorney general to fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox in the midst of the Watergate scandal.
Late Friday night – a traditional dump for controversial news – Barr issued a press release announcing Berman’s sudden resignation in which he said he would be replaced by Jay Clayton, head of the Securities and Exchange Commission and never served as prosecutor.
Barr’s move was shocking as New York’s Southern District is one of the most prestigious and independent prosecutors ’judges and usually deals with highly sensitive financial, politically sensitive and terrorism.
The New York Federal Prosecutor’s Office is also working on a number of cases that Mueller referred him to when he completed an investigation into whether Trump’s campaign knowingly cooperated with Russia’s election interference operation. The president named “Individual-1” in her case against Cohen saying she was directing campaign finance related to paying money for several women who said they had ties to Trump.
The attempted shooting of Berman sparked another clash in Washington with House Justice Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat, who immediately announced a hearing Wednesday and called Berman to testify.
“America is right to expect the worst from Bill Barr, who has repeatedly interfered in criminal investigations on behalf of Trump,” Nadler said in a statement.
CNN legal analyst Laura Coates said late Friday that if Barr appears to be facilitating actions that will “undermine expediency … or move forward in the event of any cases, it adds another record to the fire for people who are burning because of their problems.” with this attorney general. and his inability to reinforce or really contribute to the morale and ability of prosecutors to do their job. “
Berman refuses to go
“I learned tonight in a press release from the Attorney General that I” resigned “as Attorney General of the United States. I have not resigned and I have no intention of resigning from my position appointed to me by United States State District Court judges for the Southern District of New York “Berman said.
“I will step down when the Senate confirms the previously nominated nominee. Until then, our investigations will go without progress or interruption,” he said. The chances of a new U.S. attorney for Southern New York County being confirmed long before the election seem slim and there is the possibility of legal battles over Berman’s tenure.
CNN legal analyst Paul Callan said: “I think the president will have a lot of difficulty forcing Mr. Berman to take office because he came in under unusual circumstances.”
Berman’s reference to these investigations immediately raised the question of whether he was talking specifically about the general work of his department or about any cases that might be of particular interest to Barr and Trump.
His defiance left the next steps unclear, but at the very least he spoke of the extraordinary chaos that has arisen in the Justice Department under Trump, which has intensified since Barr took power.
Management discussed replacing Berman with Ed O’Callaghan, a senior official last fall, but the move was put on hold after Guiliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman indicted the prosecutor, sources said.
CNN’s Erica Orden, Evan Perez, Kara Scannell and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.