Barr says Berman quitting, but Manhattan-based U.S. Attorney says he’s not leaving

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District Geoffrey S. Berman speaks at a news conference in New York
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District Geoffrey S. Berman speaks at a news conference on the indictment of Lev Parnas, Igor Fruman, David Correia and Andrew Kukushnin for various charges related to violations of U.S. federal election laws in New York City, U.S., October 10, 2019. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Attorney General William Barr announced Friday night that U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman was stepping down — a development that came as a complete surprise to Berman, who said he’s not leaving that easily.

On June 19, Barr said that Berman — head of one of the Justice Department most powerful offices, based in Manhattan — had departed his post after 2 1/2 years and would be replaced by President Donald Trump’s selection, Securities and Exchange Commissioner (SEC) Chairman Jay Clayton.

Berman has served as head of the Justice Department’s Southern District of New York office for more than 2 1/2 years, and had investigated several Trump allies, including former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, who was prosecuted, and former mayor and current Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani.

But just moments after the announcement broke, Berman took to the Southern District’s official Twitter account to refute that he was resigning on his own accord. In fact, Berman said he only learned of his alleged resignation from the announcement itself.

“I learned in a press release from the Attorney General tonight that I was ‘stepping down’ as United States Attorney. I have not resigned, and I have no intention of resigning, my position, to which I was appointed by the Judges of the United States District for the Southern District of New York,” Berman wrote. “I will step down when a presidentially-appointed nominee is confirmed by the Senate.”

Berman said he would continue on the job and work “to ensure that this Office’s important cases continue unimpeded.”

Citing sources, The New York Times reported that Barr moved to fire Berman after the U.S. Attorney refused to resign. The Times further reported that President Trump had, in recent weeks, discussed with advisers about removing Berman. 

Barr said that Berman would leave the post on July 3, when U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Craig Carpentino will succeed him in an interim capacity, pending Clayton’s confirmation. 

The Washington Post reported that Barr made the announcement hours after visiting New York City to meet with local police officials.

In his press release on June 19, Barr touted Clayton’s service at the SEC, saying that he oversaw efforts “to modernize regulation of the capital markets, protect Main Street investors, enhance American competitiveness and address challenges ranging from cybersecurity issues to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“His management experience and expertise in financial regulation give him an ideal background to lead the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, and he will be a worthy successor to the many historic figures who have held the post,” Barr said.

FILE PHOTO: Jay Clayton, Chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, speaks at the Economic Club of New York luncheon in New York City, New York, U.S.,September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The attorney general thanked Berman for his 2 1/2 years in service to the Southern District. Berman was appointed to the post in 2018 by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to replace former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

“With tenacity and savvy, Geoff has done an excellent job leading one of our nation’s most significant U.S. Attorney’s Offices, achieving many successes on consequential civil and criminal matters,” Barr said of Berman. “I appreciate his service to the Department of Justice and our nation, and I wish him well in the future.”