Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer wants answers for why the attorney general of the United States abruptly ousted one of the nation’s most prominent U.S. prosecutors over the weekend—the prosecutor who also happened to be conducting several investigations into Donald Trump and his associates.
Schumer asked the Justice Department’s inspector general and the Office of Professional Responsibility to jointly investigate whether the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY), Geoffrey Berman, was “removed for partisan political purposes, to influence an investigation or prosecution, or to retaliate for his actions in any specific investigation or prosecution.”
Berman had most prominently been conducting several inquiries into Trump’s inner circle, including one probe that led to the arrest and prosecution of Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen. Berman’s work also led to the indictment of a Turkish state-owned bank for which Barr had been trying to get a settlement to avoid prosecution. Berman has also been focused on Trump’s more recent lawyer and fixer, Rudy Giuliani, and has led the prosecution of two Giuliani associates: Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. Berman is a Republican who contributed to Trump’s election campaign, but his independence as head of the SDNY has rankled Trump.
Barr’s actions amount to one of the most blatant signs yet that he is presiding over a totalitarian system of justice that deems Trump and his political allies to be above the law. It, in fact, represents a total breakdown of the rule of law in the United States.
In his letter, Schumer reminds Inspector General Michael Horowitz and Director Jeffrey Ragsdale that their offices undertook an “identical investigation” in 2006 after the mass firing of multiple U.S. attorneys during the Bush administration.
Schumer also reminds them that Barr lied, in writing, about Berman supposedly “stepping down” when the Justice Department originally announced Berman’s departure. Berman hadn’t been informed of the announcement and initially declined to leave because he wasn’t directly appointed by Trump. Barr then sought Trump’s personal intervention in Berman’s ouster, at which point Berman agreed to leave after Trump officially “fired” him.
“This corrupt firing cannot be explained by cause and gives the impression that the President interfered in ongoing criminal investigations into himself and his associates,” Schumer writes, reinforcing the blatant abuse of power by both Barr and Trump.
Trump has been engaged in an administration-wide loyalty purge that includes the ouster of a handful of Pentagon officials, about a half dozen inspectors general, and now the person who arguably holds the most prominent U.S. attorney post in the nation. Barr already shook up the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, D.C. just before he interfered in the cases of Trump allies Roger Stone and Michael Flynn.