In prepared congressional testimony, the recently ousted U.S. attorney from New York describes in exquisite detail Attorney General William Barr's repeated attempts to force him out of the job.
Geoffrey Berman, formerly the top prosecutor in the Southern District of New York who resigned under pressure from both Barr and Donald Trump, recounts both an in-person meeting and a phone call in which Barr tried to coax, cajole, and even threaten him out of the position. Barr ultimately announced Berman's resignation without his knowledge or consent, according to Berman’s opening statement obtained by Politico.
During a 45-minute in-person meeting on June 19, Berman said Barr urged him to take a job heading up the Justice Department's Civil Division, but Berman told Barr he "loved" his job at SDNY and wasn't interested in overseeing the department's Civil Division.
"The Attorney General pressed me to take the Civil Division position, saying that the role would be a good resume builder," writes Berman. Barr noted that Berman could kick back, collect contacts, and just "sit there for five months and see who won the election" before deciding what to do next.
"I told the Attorney General that there were important investigations in the Office that I wanted to see through to completion," recounted Berman, adding that he also wanted to lead the office through the COVID-19 crisis. But Barr was persistent, almost surely because of those “important investigations.” Berman eventually brought up the fact that this reminded him of how Barr handled ousting the U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia, Jessie Liu, who had similarly been offered a promotion to the Treasury Department that was later rescinded after she resigned.
That reference apparently pushed Barr from carrots to sticks. "The Attorney General said that if I did not resign from my position I would be fired. He added that getting fired from my job would not be good for my resume or future job prospects. I told him that while I did not want to get fired, I would not resign," wrote Berman.
Barr said he would try to think of other administration jobs, but Berman reiterated that he wasn't interested. The two spoke over the phone later that day at 7:21 PM, and Barr tried to entice him with becoming chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, but Berman remained unmoved. Berman suggested talking again on Monday after he'd had a chance to talk any changes through with his executive staff at SDNY.
"[Barr] asked why I needed to talk to my Executive Staff. He said this is about you. I said it is about the Office. He refused my request to call me on Monday and said that he would call me the next day, Saturday, June 20th," Berman wrote. But before they spoke again, Barr issued a statement indicating Berman's voluntary departure from the post.
"Sometime after 9:14 pm on Friday I became aware that DOJ issued a press release that I would be 'stepping down,'" Berman recalled. "That statement was false." Berman also noted that Barr's release stated: “With tenacity and savvy, Geoff has done an excellent job leading” the Southern District. That statement will render false any subsequent claim that Berman was dismissed for cause.
As we already know, Berman initially refused to resign and issued a statement late Friday night saying as much. Barr followed up with a letter Saturday afternoon saying Trump had "fired" Berman, but it included what Berman called a "critical concession."
“The Attorney General stated that Audrey Strauss, my hand-picked and trusted Deputy, and not Craig Carpenito, would be Acting U.S. Attorney and was expected to serve in that capacity until a permanent successor is in place," Berman wrote. Berman said the installation of Carpenito, the U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey, would have been “unprecedented, unnecessary and unexplained.”
So with that concession, Berman said he could resign in "full confidence" that Strauss would continue the work of the office. "I decided to step down and not litigate my removal," Berman added.
Berman's testimony is full of details about timing and circumstances surrounding his correspondence with Barr. Of the initial meeting, he writes: "There were sandwiches on the table, but nobody ate."
Sounds like a metaphor for Trump's entire presidency.