Barr decried over 'naked abuse of power' as he tries to fire prosecutor investigating Trump's inner circle

House judiciary chairman says he will invite Geoffrey Berman to testify as he's pushed out of his top position at powerful attorney office

Chris Riotta
New York
Saturday 20 June 2020 17:00 BST
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Democrats and legal experts decried a “Friday night massacre” and “naked abuse of power” after Donald Trump’s attorney general attempted to remove the man leading investigations into the president’s inner circle at the powerful US attorney’s office in Manhattan.

The explosive standoff took place on Friday as Attorney General William Barr said Geoffrey Berman, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, was leaving his top position at the office.

Mr Berman spearheaded probes into the president’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, and was investigating Mr Trump’s current legal counsel, Rudy Giuliani. The SDNY investigations have led to several indictments surrounding Mr Trump, including Cohen, who was charged with campaign finance violations, as well as two associates to Mr Giuliani, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.

In a statement shortly after Mr Barr announced the sudden shakeup, Mr Berman effectively refused to step down, saying: “I have not resigned, and have no intention of resigning, my position, to which I was appointed by the Judges of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. I will step down when a presidentially appointed nominee is confirmed by the Senate.”

He added: “Until then, our investigations will move forward without delay or interruption."

Ben Rhodes, former deputy national security adviser to Barack Obama, called for the attorney general’s impeachment on Twitter, writing in one post: “We are so many miles further down to road to authoritarianism than our political and media culture can process.”

The former director of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub, alleged Mr Barr was “going to need to be the subject of a criminal investigation” after attempting to oust Mr Berman.

“But first Congress needs to impeach him,” he added. “The inquiry should begin Monday. There is no excuse for not doing it.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill also resurfaced their calls for Mr Barr’s impeachment and demanded he resign amid the latest controversy.

Elizabeth Warren (D—Ma) wrote in a tweet: “This is a naked abuse of power. I’ve already called for AG William Barr to resign & for Congress to impeach him.”

The Massachusetts senator also urged Congress to pass legislation she introduced that would “defund Barr’s authority to interfere with matters related to Trump, his family” and his re-election campaign.

Democrats accused Mr Barr of interfering in the attorney’s office in an attempt to defend the president and his inner circle from ongoing probes Mr Berman was leading, several of those reportedly surrounding potential campaign finance violations.

“Make no mistake,” Kamala Harris (D—Ca) wrote in a tweet. “Bill Barr will go down in history as having aided and abetted the most corrupt president this country has ever seen.”

Preet Bharara, who previously served in the same post as Mr Berman and described the ousting as a “Friday night massacre” in an interview with CNN, wrote in a tweet: “Why does a president get rid of his own hand-picked US Attorney in SDNY on a Friday night, less than 5 months before the election?”

Jerrold Nadler (D—Ny), head of the House Judiciary, has meanwhile announced he will invite Mr Berman to deliver testimony before Congress after the standoff took place.

“America is right to expect the worst of Bill Barr, who has repeatedly interfered in criminal investigations on Trump’s behalf,” Mr Nadler tweeted. “We have a hearing on this topic on Wednesday. We welcome Mr. Berman’s testimony and will invite him to testify.”

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