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Berman voted U.S. Attorney for Southern District by Manhattan federal judges

Geoffrey Berman takes over the nation’s most prestigious U.S. Attorney’s Office after federal judges in Manhattan voted unanimously to give him the post.

Geoffrey Berman was officially approved as U.S. Attorney

Geoffrey Berman was officially approved as U.S. Attorney for Southern District by Manhattan federal judges on Wednesday. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Win McNamee

Manhattan federal judges announced Wednesday they have voted to name Geoffrey Berman as permanent U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, extending the interim appointment he got from the Justice Department despite opposition from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

Berman took over the nation’s most prestigious U.S. Attorney’s office on a 120-day interim basis in January, in the wake of controversy that surrounded the firing last year of Preet Bharara, who was followed by his deputy Joon Kim serving as acting U.S. Attorney.

Gillibrand, New York’s junior senator, threatened to block Berman’s appointment because she considered a meeting he had with President Donald Trump unseemly, and was worried about politicization of the influential office — the same concern Bharara voiced after his firing.

The Trump administration, however, never formally nominated Berman to the Senate. After the court’s announcement, Gillibrand said the process was short-circuited.

“The Court has acted responsibly within the law,” she said in a statement. “It is troubling however that President Trump continues to attempt to undermine our institutions by doing an end-run around the U.S. Senate’s advise and consent responsibility for U.S. Attorney nominations.”

Attorney Gen. Jeff Sessions’ interim appointment of Berman was scheduled to run out May 4, and by law the court inherited the power to appoint a U.S. Attorney at that point to serve until someone is nominated and confirmed by the Senate.

The court is headed by Chief Judge Colleen McMahon, who was appointed to the bench by President Bill Clinton, but an announcement from the court said the judges voted unanimously to name Berman.

“I thank the Court and I am grateful for its confidence in me,” he said in a statement. “I look forward to continuing the great tradition of this Office to pursue justice without fear or favor.”

The last time a court appointment of a chief prosecutor in Manhattan occurred was in 2004, court officials said, when Jim Comey stepped down as U.S. Attorney, and was replaced on an interim basis by David Kelley, who was eventually appointed by the court. Berman previously served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Manhattan office, and was practicing with Greenberg Traurig LLP, the Manhattan law firm where Rudy Giuliani was also a partner, when he got the interim appointment in January.

In addition to the meeting with Trump, critics said Berman’s service as a prosecutor was long ago, in the 1990s, and that much of his private practice had been in New Jersey, and civil rather than criminal.

Since taking over the office, he has stepped away from several cases without giving reasons — including the retrial of former state Senate leader Dean Skelos and, reportedly, the investigation of Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney. His deputy, Robert Khuzami, a former SEC enforcement director, handles those matters.

Sessions also named Richard Donoghue to head the U.S. Attorney’s office for Brooklyn and Long Island on an interim basis. His interim appointment, like Berman’s, runs out next week. A spokesman for Chief Judge Dora Irizarry said action by the court “is pending at this time.”

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