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Prosecutor overseeing investigations into Trump allies removed from job

Geoffrey Berman is the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan.

de84ea52-4a67-458f-91ef-67765392a299 Source: PA Images

US ATTORNEY GENERAL William Barr has told the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan that President Donald Trump has removed him from the job.

The move deepens tensions between the country’s chief law enforcement officer and a high-profile US attorney who had been overseeing investigations of Trump’s allies.

Adding to the confusion, Trump distanced himself from the move to oust US Attorney Geoffrey S Berman, telling reporters the decision “was all up to the attorney general”.

Berman said he intends to continue to fight against his removal.

The whirlwind chain of events began on Friday night, when Barr announced that  Berman, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, had resigned.

Hours later, the prosecutor issued a statement denying that he had resigned and saying that his office’s “investigations would move forward without delay or interruption”.

Yesterday morning, he showed up to work, telling reporters: “I’m just here to do my job.”

In a letter made public by the Justice Department later on Saturday, Barr said he expected to continue speaking with Berman about other possible positions within the department and was surprised by the statement he released.

“Unfortunately, with your statement of last night, you have chosen public spectacle over public service,” Barr wrote, adding that the idea that Berman had to continue on the job to safeguard investigations was “false”.

“Your statement also wrongly implies that your continued tenure in the office is necessary to ensure that cases now pending in the Southern District of New York are handled appropriately,” he wrote.

“This is obviously false.”

2.54233686 Geoffrey S Berman

The administration’s push to cast aside Berman set up an extraordinary political and constitutional clash between the Justice Department and one of the nation’s top districts, which has tried major mob and terrorism cases over the years and is investigating Mr Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

It also deepened tensions between the department and congressional Democrats, who have accused Barr of politicising the agency and acting more like Trump’s personal lawyer than the country’s chief law enforcement officer.

Barr offered no explanation for his action.

The White House announced that Trump was nominating Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Jay Clayton, a well-connected Wall Street lawyer with virtually no experience as a federal prosecutor, for the job.

People familiar with the matter in the Southern District could point to no clear reason for Berman’s removal, though they noted his job had always seemed in jeopardy and Berman was never given the sense that it was secure.

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Berman’s office also took actions on some important cases without first informing Washington.

2.54111657 US attorney general William Barr

But the various investigations are still ongoing and no charges seem imminent, said the people familiar with the matter.

A senior department official said Clayton was planning to leave the administration, wanted to move back to New York and expressed interest in the Southern District position, and Barr thought he would be a good fit.

Only days ago, allegations surfaced from former Trump national security adviser John Bolton that the president sought to interfere in an investigation by Berman’s office into the state-owned Turkish bank in an effort to cut deals with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Lindsey Graham, said he was unlikely to proceed with Mr Clayton’s nomination unless New York’s senators, Democrats Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, gave their consent to the pick.

Schumer said the bid to oust Berman “reeks of potential corruption of the legal process” and Gillibrand said she would “not be complicit” in helping to fire a prosecutor investigating corruption.

Both legislators called for Clayton to withdraw from consideration.

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